Instead of golfers peaceably reading the greens this summer, there is the reading of news stories, all of them a storm cloud hanging low over our restful sport.

A Japanese company is suing Arnold Palmer for $3 million in a breach-of-contract case involving the sale of the golfer's Bay Hill Club in Orlando. In Montreal, 200 Mohawk warriors had a shootout with police over a dispute with a golf club that wants to build nine more holes on land the tribe claims for itself.

In Phoenix, some homeowners' wells have gone dry and the families are blaming three desert golf courses -- partly owned by Mobil Corp. -- for using up the water. In Warminster, Pa., the township's board of supervisors ordered the greenskeeper at Five Ponds golf course to redesign the 12th hole. A property owner adjacent to the hole griped that in two years 700 golf balls had sliced into his backyard, breaking windows, denting his car and knocking him off his power mower.

Those are mere flubbed chip shots compared with the Shoal Creek case. The Professional Golfers Association Championship, which is the fourth major tournament of the summer and starts Aug. 9, is to be played at Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. Its white-only membership policy was articulated -- if that's the word -- by club founder Hall Thompson, who told the local media that Shoal Creek ''is our home, and we pick and choose who we want.''

Blacks are among the unwanted. They are not admitted because ''that's not done in Birmingham.'' The elitist founder of the club has apologized, claimed he was quoted out of context and then said that black applicants are welcome.

This chastening had a touch too much suddenness for it to be seen as anything more than a quickie conversion to ride out the current storm. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference rightly argued that Shoal Creek's policies were out of bounds and issued a call to the barricades. Street demonstrations were planned during the PGA at the Birmingham club, as well as future fingerings of other all-white tournament-site golf clubs, including the Augusta National, where the Masters is played every April.

The tensions at Shoal Creek were resolved on July 31, when the club agreed to ''expand our minority membership.'' SCLC called off the demonstrations.

At Shoal Creek, and a fair number of the nation's other 4,800 private golf courses, the legal issue is neither the privilege of privacy or the privacy of privilege, but whether the rights to association have a prerogative when public facilities or public funds are involved. Golf Digest magazine reports that ''a dozen or more states and cities have either enacted or proposed a variety of different laws aimed at eliminating discrimination at private clubs. They include prohibiting the issuance of liquor licenses, denying tax benefits to country clubs that restrict tee times, disallowing business-expense deductions on state income taxes and denying tax exemptions or abatements.''

By those standards, clubbiness is rarely private. At PGA or U.S. Golf Association tournaments at private clubs, who pays, if not the public, for the police to direct traffic that inevitably jams roads leading to the courses? What about publicly owned corporations that pay the perk of membership dues at all-male or all-white clubs for executives?

The threat of forced change to the old duffer network is causing dyspepsia at the 19th hole. A moan is heard in the August issue of Golf Digest in a letter to the editor about the entry of minorities and women into private clubs. ''Do you not have the right to select your friends and associates, and for that matter, your golfing partners?'' asks a teed-off male reader from Niceville {sic}, Florida. ''Why do some people believe that they automatically have a right to everything? Please allow some privacy in our lives lest we all succumb to the worst kind of socialism, case-law imposed.''

While proletariat golfers are added to the clamoring ruck beyond the country club gates, much of golf's establishment appears eager to have them. The masses, however unkempt, do have leisure-time money. The USGA reports that 75 percent of its newest 175 affiliated clubs are public. The National Golf Foundation says that the United States has 121 percent more golfers in 1990 than 1970 and that they are playing -- and paying -- on 13,738 courses, up from 10,848.

Two-thirds of U.S. courses are public, a sign that, despite the reluctant Shoal Creeks, golf is being democratized. In a few years, the problem may be too much fairway democracy. An estimated 400 new courses a year will need to be built to handle the play. Where's the land for that? And the wood? Golfers use between 1.6 billion and 1.7 billion tees a year, or 4,331,250 lbs. of trees. Does Earth First! know that?