Country clubs with discriminatory membership practices will be banned from hosting PGA Tour events from now on, the governing body of men's professional tournament golf announced yesterday. The measure comes in response to controversy surrounding the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, an all-white club until it admitted an honorary black member last week under threat of picket lines.
The PGA Tour, which oversees 118 events, including the men's regular circuit, the Senior PGA Tour and the satellite Ben Hogan Tour, had been widely expected to adopt such a policy ever since a civil rights dispute erupted over the membership practices at Shoal Creek in June. Civil rights leaders threatened to protest during the PGA Championship Aug. 9-12, but relented when a settlement was reached this week, the club agreeing to admit a black immediately and at least one more under regular procedures.
Every major body in the sport has been forced to reassess its policies or lack of them in the wake of the controversy, which began when Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson acknow-ledged the club discriminated against blacks. He later apologized, but the controversy grew amid sponsor withdrawals of television advertising and a report that the PGA Tour holds 17 of its 43 primary events at all-white clubs.
The PGA of America, the organization of club and teaching pros that administers the PGA Championship, will vote next week on a similar measure. The U.S. Golf Association, overseer of the U.S. Open, also is weighing the issue. All-white Augusta National, host of the invitation-only Masters, has said it will seek to include blacks as members by this fall.
Previously, PGA Tour tournament sites were chosen strictly on the basis of quality of the course and marketability. But the 10-member Tournament Policy Board approved new criteria that will require any club to demonstrate anti-discriminatory practices or face cancellation as a host.
A statement released by the PGA Tour said local tournament organizers "shall require that the practices and policies of any and all clubs proposed as tournament sites do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin. Additionally, the PGA Tour staff shall be empowered to terminate any such agreement without penalty for breach of such representation."
The tour said that, for the first time, it specifically will inquire into the membership practices of clubs. Where questionable practices are found, the tour said it will demand the club "take appropriate action to encourage minority membership. Consequently, no new contracts will be extended unless the PGA Tour is satisfied that its non-discriminatory policies are being enforced."
But the implementation of the new policy will not be simple, and civil rights leader Joseph Lowery voiced skepticism as to how immediate and far-reaching the measure will be. PGA Tour spokesman Sid Wilson acknowledged that some upcoming events are scheduled for all-white club sites. He would not comment on specific tournaments or numbers, nor the Charlotte Observer's finding that there are 17 such clubs on the circuit.
Lowery said he believed at least five tournaments are to be held at clubs with no black members, including the prestigious Nabisco Championships Oct. 25-28 at Champions Golf Club in Houston. He noted that some of those tournaments have television contracts and sponsors could be leery of more controversy.
"If they don't, I want to know if this applies," Lowery said. "The case is, if they don't have black members, are they going to hold the tournament or not? I think sponsors would be interested in whether those clubs are going to desegregate."
Lowery said he heard one report of a country club that called a black member of a nearby club and asked that member if he would be interested in transferring his allegiance in time for the tournament to be held.
Private clubs have a legal right to exclusionary policies, and some of the most prominent in the country have restricted memberships. In theory, they are now confronted with a choice: Change their policies or give up their tournaments. It remains to be seen not just how the PGA Tour will enforce the policy, but how it will determine whether a club complies.
"It will be ongoing, on a case-by-case basis," Wilson said. "Just because a club doesn't have a black member doesn't mean it's exclusionary. They may have had one previously, or no one has applied. But we're going to make sure that every effort is being made."
Wilson said all PGA Tour sites were notified of the new measure, and that so far none has protested. "We feel we've got the support of all those groups, we've got a clean sport and no one wants to see that image tarnished," he said.
But the PGA Tour has put itself in an awkward position. "It's not a cut-and-dried thing," Wilson said. "It's a very complicated issue to deal with. But I think we've taken the appropriate step and we'll proceed from here."
Wilson will seek to meet with PGA Tour officials some time after his organization's convention in Richmond next week. Lowery said he would like to raise a number of other issues, such as greater inclusion of blacks among the PGA staff, board members and tournament officials.
"Things are happening," he said.