THE REAL world reached the world of professional golf last June when Hall W. Thompson, founder and chairman of the all-white Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., where the PGA Championship was to be held, acknowledged that his club discriminated against blacks. To make matters worse, he said his club wouldn't be pressured into accepting black members. His remarks brought to broad public awareness the unpleasant fact that many clubs hosting major tournaments have been bastions of racial and ethnic discrimination. It quickly became apparent, however, that the rest of the country had had it with this sort of thing. Civil rights groups threatened to picket the tournament, and corporate TV sponsors withdrew their commercials.
As a result of Shoal Creek, professional golf is belatedly confronting the issue of minority involvement. Mr. Thompson is no longer Shoal Creek's chairman, although he remains head of the committee that controls the course and grounds, and the club has elected a black member. PGA Tour Events, which oversees 118 clubs hosting the events, including the men's regular circuit, now requires clubs to demonstrate the nondiscriminatory nature of their policies and, where all-white membership exists, to provide evidence of efforts to encourage minorities to join. Reportedly, 113 of the 118 affected clubs have elected to support the new PGA Tour rules. Five clubs, however, have decided they can't live with the new directives and therefore will not be hosting the tour this season. Air Force Secretary Donald B. Rice's club, the all-white Cypress Point Golf Course at Pebble Beach, Calif., is one of them.
This came to light last weekend when Vice President Dan Quayle abruptly canceled a second day of golf at Cypress Point, where he was playing with Dr. Rice and L. Ebersole Gaines, U.S. consul general in Bermuda, following local objections to his play. His office said that he had been assured that Cypress Point did not discriminate and that he was unaware of the controversy surrounding the club. Nonetheless, he chose to leave Cypress Point rather than, according to a press statement, "leave the impression that he condones any form of discrimination." Secretary Rice, however, returned to Cypress Point and continued to play the course. Cypress Point notes that it has a nondiscrimination policy, that blacks have played the course in the past as invited guests, that it has women and Jewish members, but that the club also has a long membership waiting list which it won't skip just so that blacks may join. It was a judgment call, and the vice president was right to leave. Secretary Rice, who has high public responsibilities, should have left with him.