Golf's black-and-white reality is reflected in the last major tournament of the year, this week's controversial PGA Championship: one honorary black member of the host club, one black player in the 156-man field, black employees but no black entrepreneurs at the Shoal Creek Country Club venues, and almost no black reporters covering the event.

Still, if a black presence at the most sophisticated and wealthiest levels of golf remains as rare as a 2 on a par-5 hole, there is hope that a small step at Shoal Creek in Birmingham last week may lead to larger ones there and elsewhere in the future.

"Maybe the greatest fallout," said syndicated columnist and former government official Carl Rowan, "will be at Baltusrol Golf Club {in New Jersey} and other places where great golf tournaments are held, whether they can get their houses in order so they don't face situations similar to Shoal Creek's three, five and eight years from now. This does send a certain message to the owners of country clubs."

Rowan is historically significant to Washington-area golf, he being one of two blacks who in 1969 convinced the owner of Indian Spring Country Club "that the time was over for that {all-white} nonsense." The integration of Indian Spring led to racial barriers being broken at other local clubs.

"You will find the metropolitan Washington area fairly unique in the country," Rowan said, "in the extent of wiping out country-club bigotry. But I'm almost sure there still are {area} clubs with no black members."

What disturbs Rowan, Washington pro golfer Lee Elder and many others is Shoal Creek's promise to admit, along with honorary member Louis Willie, blacks through the regular process. Promises have a way of being stalled and, when publicity dies down, broken.

"Obviously, Shoal Creek wanted this tournament there and made that {honorary member} move," Rowan said. "But I have no assurance that anything is going to happen after that tournament."

"This was nothing but a way to save face and get sponsors back," Senior Tour player Elder said. "We sell ourselves too small and too cheap."

Withdrawal of television ads by six major companies surely was a major factor in negotations between civil rights leaders and Shoal Creek officials. Most businesses have delayed announcing whether they will reconsider, perhaps so as not to seem to condone business as usual in golf too quickly.

Presently, officials of the three most prestigious tournaments in the United States -- the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA -- are dealing with exclusivity. Augusta National, site of the Masters, will "invite a black fellow in the next month or so," chairman Hord Hardin said.

In response to the promises by some clubs, Rowan says: "Someone can be put on the Supreme Court quicker than that."

The next four PGAs and four of the next five U.S. Opens are scheduled to be held at clubs with no black members. The PGA of America has announced new guidelines for site selection and the U.S. Golf Association said it will "reevaluate" potential Open courses.

The PGA Tour, which is separate from the PGA of America, said 20 of the 123 courses it uses for its regular, senior and Ben Hogan events, are all-white. More than a week ago, tour officials announced that its policy board now will include membership policies among course selection criteria. Two days ago, it was announced that the Tour will not allow tournaments at clubs where membership even "raises a question" of discrimination.

Elder plans to conduct his own membership surveys at Senior Tour stops and to react forcefully if he finds them offensive.

"I will boycott myself," he said. "I think the time for these things has come about. . . . If I have to, I'll talk to some players and ask for help in that situation."

The Economics Aspect

The situation inside the ropes in elite golf frequently is more racially imbalanced than at the courses themselves. The PGA Tour admits that only two blacks, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe, are among its more than 220 exempt and other prominent members.

Which means that when the Tour played the Nissan Los Angeles Open in late February there almost certainly were more black members at Riviera Country Club (four) than black players in the field.

Ironically, Elder said, there are fewer blacks on the regular tour now than 15 or so years ago, when he, senior slugger Jim Dent and one or two others played it. The whys have to do with exclusivity, economics and coaching, he said.

"To be competitive at the Tour level," PGA Tour deputy commissioner and chief executive officer Tim Finchem said, "players seem to have to start golf as kids. You see blacks getting into golf later in life. We are contributing to programs {begun by Peete and Chi Chi Rodriguez} that allow inner-city kids to play."

Big business lately has been attracted to big-time golf. The PGA Tour lists 27 "marketing partners," most of whom know about the racial imbalance in the sport because many of their executives belong to all-white clubs.

Nabisco seems the most prominent of those partners, being featured on five of the first 25 pages of the regular Tour's media guide and contributing in excess of $10 million this year. Yet its signature event, the Nabisco Championships, whose $2.5 million purse is 2 1/2 times as large as all but two Tour events, will be held at all-white Champions Golf Club in Houston.

Nabisco's senior vice president for corporate and government affairs, John Manfredi, said "discussions" have been held with Champions officials. He reported what Champions co-founder Jack Burke also said in an interview last week: No blacks have ever applied.

"I served on a grand jury once, where the foreman was a prominent {black} attorney and another member was a black doctor," Burke said. "When we were walking through the parking lot one time, they asked if a group could join. I said: 'You can come; we don't take groups.' "

Burke said Walter King, whose wife is the incoming president of the University of Houston, has inquired about joining Champions. King was moving from St. Louis to Houston last week and unavailable for comment.

Said Manfredi: "Jack {Burke} said that since he appeared on Nightline he's been contacted by 30 blacks interested in applying for membership. That will be the true test. Out of 30, more than a handful ought to be acceptable and meet the guidelines."

Elder is suspicious:

"Jack Burke is not going to make me believe that as long as Champions has existed {he and Jimmy Demeret founded it in 1958} no black has made application. I know there have been numerous blacks who have played there -- and it's hard for me to believe none of them ever applied."

Golf Is More Than a Game

Before Shoal Creek admitted Willie, a 66-year-old insurance executive, as an honorary member and promised to consider black applicants through its regular process, Nabisco canceled a hospitality tent. That closed-tent policy will continue.

Does that mean Champions must admit a black before the late-October event Nabisco sponsors?

"We really haven't gotten that far," Manfredi said.

From the late-1940s to 1962, Burke was a touring pro whose 17 victories included the 1956 Masters. Until the flamboyant Walter Hagan started to change that attitude in the 1920s, all pro golfers were not welcome in the clubhouse after their rounds.

"Pros were treated sort of like day laborers," Burke said. "People {who belonged to clubs where tournaments were held} wanted to watch you play and hit balls. But when the round was over it was: 'See you later.'

"Hey, Cypress Point {one of the courses for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am} can't sit 25 people in its dining room. L.A. Country Club wouldn't admit Bing Crosby. Arnold Palmer's dad couldn't play Augusta National."

Even when the financial problems that swept through Texas several years ago caused membership at Champions to decline by about 200, Burke said a no-recruit policy was maintained.

"We didn't recruit whites," he said. "You can't run out and yell at people: 'Hey, we're in trouble.' You hope to hang on." Membership at Champions now is about 900.

One of the cosponsors of the Nabisco Championships is the Houston Golf Association. All the charitable money it donates from Houston Tour stops is directed toward youth, an official said, with about $100,000 each of the last three years going to a school whose enrollment is 80 percent black and Hispanic.

As to the press rooms of all golf tournaments, and especially at the majors, also being nearly all-white, Rowan said: "Someone decides this is a lily-white sport and makes coverage lily-white. It's routine, like putting ham on a sandwich and putting spread on top. A way of life."

The advantages of membership in exclusive golf clubs extend beyond golf. "These are not pretty little old social clubs, as they'd have you believe," said Rowan. "Plainly, they are economic institutions. Decisions about who gets contracts, decisions about who gets jobs take place on golf courses and tennis courts, not in board rooms."

Decisions about how to remain exclusive dominate thought at many clubs.

"As private country clubs enter the decade of the '90s," Marcia Chambers wrote in the May issue of Golf Digest, "many are seeking new legal ways to define privacy and shore up their constitutional defenses so they may remain truly exclusive. Their purpose is to look for roads to take them beyond the reach of laws aimed at ending discrimination. . . .

"What is new {in country-club golf} is not discrimination. What is new is that discrimination on the basis of race, sex and religion is no longer legally sanctioned by state law and by judicial mandate. In the last six years, the United States Supreme Court has issued major decisions upholding the constitutionality of antidiscrimination laws from three states: Minnesota, California and New York."

Although race is the hottest topic, Chambers writes: "Virtually all of the litigation in the country at the moment is gender related."

Elder speaks for blacks and women, and to Shoal Creek and clubs with similar attitudes when he says: "If you've done wrong, admit it: 'You caught me. I've got to do something. I want to do something. You caught me with my pants down and I've got to do something to pull them back up.' "