BIRMINGHAM, AUG. 7 -- The PGA Championship is looking more like the scene of an accident than a golf tournament. Amid the wreckage of a civil rights controversy at Shoal Creek Golf Club, local fans today defended the honor of their community, while defending champion Payne Stewart criticized the course and opened himself to charges of insensitivity with some ill-chosen words.

Outwardly, Shoal Creek is much like any other site of a major championship, a difficult par-72 of 7,145 yards over hills and thickets, designed by Jack Nicklaus. But the formerly all-white club became the center of a discrimination issue in June when founder Hall Thompson acknowledged the club did not accept blacks as members. While the club mollified local civil rights leaders by admitting a black businessman as an honorary member, the issue of indifference to minorities within the sport has been ongoing.

Stewart did not help the cause of players with cavalier remarks in a news conference this afternoon. First he blasted the setup of the course, a difficult layout with impenetrable rough lining the fairway. "I'm disgruntled about it," he said. ". . . If they thought the course was too easy the way it was, they should have taken it to another golf course." He proceeded to state that racism is not an issue that concerns the players.

"I play golf, I don't make policy," he said. "We play golf for a living. I think it's been blown way out of proportion. Discrimination is all over the world. Don't start here at Shoal Creek, go all over the world. The players have probably made more jokes about it than anything else."

Stewart's comments reflected growing impatience among players and fans alike, who would prefer to dwell on the last major championship of the season. "It's done," Greg Norman said.

"It's old news as far as I'm concerned," Nicklaus said. "We've talked enough about it."

But Nicklaus, told of Stewart's appraisal of the locker room sentiments, said, "I don't think that's a joking issue."

Nor did the Alabamans who visited the course for practice rounds this afternoon, after weeks of portrayal around the country as a community that harbors a discriminatory country club.

"It gave everybody here a black eye for a while," said Terry Holt, 31, a white salesman. "But out here there doesn't seem to be a lot of impact. . . . Being born and raised in the South, we're all sensitive to the issue. Anybody who was here in the '50s and '60s knows we've made a lot of progress. . . . Overall, I guess it's been a good thing. For myself, I'm glad it's over so we can get on with the game of golf."

A white parking lot attendant sat in his chair encouraging spectators to smile. "I just park cars, I try to know as little as I can know," he said.

Leo Matthews stood in a grove of pine trees near the practice tee, a newly hired security guard on crowd control duty. Matthews, a black man and longtime recreational golfer, was more interested in catching glimpses of players than in mulling the controversy. "To each his own," he said. "I really don't care. This is the thrill of my life seeing these guys."

Martha Palmer, a white housewife, sat on a bench under a leader board with a souvenir book spread on her lap, waiting for noted players to stroll up the path so she could acquire more autographs on the signature-laden pages. She had successfully accosted Norman, Nicklaus and Tom Watson, and was waiting for Lee Trevino.

"I don't think it should have been raised," she said. "They don't have black members at a lot of courses. I don't know why it would start here, except that it was Birmingham. I think it's silly."

Clint Brown, 41, a mechanic, called himself divided, a dedicated golf fan, and a black. He shoots in the high 70s at North Birmingham Golf Course, a public layout across town. He said he intended to come to the PGA whether there were protests by the black community or not. The issue of membership in private clubs is not one he feels pertains to him, mainly because he doesn't have the financial wherewithal.

"I guess it was resolved all right," he said. "I was coming out anyway, I wanted to see the PGA. I'm in between on it, right in the middle, halfway, as a golfer. I think the PGA got kind of a raw deal. But maybe it goes deeper than what I really know."

Shoal Creek is not the only private club confronted with the issue. Last week the PGA Tour, which oversees the men's circuit but none of the majors, issued a new site selection policy stating that clubs with exclusionary policies will be banned from hosting tournaments. The PGA Championship is administered by the PGA of America, the organization of club and teaching pros. The tour has said it reserves the right to move tournaments to another site. Previously, sites were selected on the basis of quality of course and marketability.

Tour officials began screening host clubs, which now find themselves defending their memberships. Next week the International will be held at Castle Pines in Castle Rock, Colo., a club with no black members. Tournament director Larry Thiel said he had been in contact with tour officials, and told them the club does not discriminate, it simply never has had any applications by blacks, perhaps because of the prohibitive $65,000 membership fee.

Thiel said one black did initially apply for membership, but withdrew because of financial considerations. He said he felt confident of the club's position with the tour after assuring officials it does not have exclusionary practices. He called the new ruling "absolutely right," but took exception to reports that some clubs are seeking token minorities to avoid conflict.

"We don't have any hidden agendas or bylaws," Thiel said. "We have women and some minorities, but we do not have a black. . . . I sense a lot of clubs are going to go out and entertain tokenism or artificially identify quotas. We aren't going to do that. We've never been a discriminatory club, all we want are quality individuals, whatever they are."

The Greater Milwaukee Open that starts Aug. 30 also has been a focus of attention. Host Tuckaway Country Club is another with no black members, although it did have one in 1979. Tournament President Gordon Kress said he had received a call from PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and assured him a black is in the process of joining, but not as a token member in response to the Shoal Creek controversy. Kress said, rather, the member was awaiting completion of a home in the area, and was advised that he might face a waiting list if he delayed too long.

Kress said Tuckaway also includes women, Arabs and a Filipino. He said the club is particularly sensitive to charges of racisim since Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe and Lee Elder, all black pro golfers, have been among the Great Milwaukee victors. Kress, a former president of the club, said if there was evidence of exclusionary policies, "I'd feel very uneasy. I'd be the first say the tournament should move. This is not a one-sided show by the PGA Tour. If somebody said they weren't going to accept a black member, I'd be on {Beman's} side. I don't know of anybody that stupid."