BIRMINGHAM -- No picket signs, no picket lines. Shhhhhh! Don't bother these golfers with the real world.

Hale Irwin, you're considered probably the most thoughtful player on the PGA Tour, how do you feel about blacks being barred from some of the country club courses you play? "No comment. Don't even ask me."

Larry Mize and John Mahaffey, you're both on the Tour policy board, you can effect change. How do you feel? "No comment."

Fuzzy Zoeller, Paul Azinger, care to talk about the issue? "No comment."

What about it Payne Stewart? "This whole thing has been caused by the media."

Hey, Hubert Green, you have an equity share here at Shoal Creek. Do you condone the exclusion of black people from your club? "No comment."

I just play golf. I don't get involved in politics. What, have an opinion about racism or freedom in America? Not me, gotta go work on the putting stroke.

What we've found here this week is that though most golfers generally receive the benefit of the doubt for being smarter than most athletes, many are just as self-absorbed, just as generally unconcerned about the human condition, just as indifferent about the problems facing people as athletes in other sports. Not now, buddy, but this rough is just awful.

Professional golfers ought to care, one way or another, about the larger issue here. Golfers who make policy -- are you listening Mize and Mahaffey? -- should have been available to talk about exclusionary membership rules every day this week since nobody forced them to participate on the Tour policy board. Jack Nicklaus, when he builds a course with somebody such as Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson, ought to take some responsibility for going into business with somebody who's going to publicly claim that he won't be pressured into accepting blacks at his country club.

This week there were several players who had spine enough to share their thoughts. What they feel is not as important as the fact that they acknowledge for a moment that serious problems exist right here in their own little world. Scott Simpson, Dave Stockton, Lanny Wadkins and Nicklaus were among the few who did have strong opinions to express.

South African Gary Player, who stayed on the political sidelines early in his career before becoming one of Lee Elder's staunchest supporters, said: "If I was in those people's shoes, I'd also demonstrate."

Before the boycott was called off after Shoal Creek's acceptance of an honorary black member, Player said: "I was bitterly disappointed at Mr. Hall Thompson's statements. I just think they were uncalled for. In this world today we don't have a choice. We've just got to look at each other and talk to each other."

The amazing thing is that a history of racial exclusion in golf has exploded essentially in one week. Why haven't we heard primal screams from the few black players, including Washingtonian Elder, who told a television interviewer this week that -- had he qualified -- he wouldn't have played at Shoal Creek.

As Jim Thorpe, the only black golfer in this field, said: "Yeah, it bothered me a little to hear him say he wouldn't play here. Hell, he played the Masters at Augusta National and I know damned well there ain't no black members at Augusta. A black man can't even drive up Magnolia Lane {past the security checkpoint into the club}."

We won't be so quick to let Thorpe off the hook either. Not for playing here, but for playing at all on the exclusionary stops along the way and saying next to nothing. "I guess the few of us {blacks} on the Tour have been treated so well, we just overlooked it," Thorpe admitted.

Not everybody, thankfully, is in such a forgiving mood. Lee Trevino, known as one of the quickest men on the Tour with a quip, saw nothing to laugh about on another stop on the Tour awhile back. A black cat ran across the green behind Trevino and a jerk in the gallery said, "Lee, what do you feed your caddy," a snide reference to the black man carrying Trevino's golf bag.

"Red necks," Trevino said.

Soon enough the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek will end. But if the future venues along the Tour that exclude blacks or Jews or Hispanics or women or anyone else don't clean up their acts, this whole episode will have been a sorry waste of time. The Payne Stewarts of the world will smirk and say, "Told you so," and the golfers who claim not to have any feelings about anything other than sport will feel all too comfortable once again.

But some won't feel that comfortable. At the 1983 Masters, someone asked Calvin Peete how he liked the "tradition of Augusta National." Peete answered, "Asking a black man how he likes the tradition at the Masters is like asking him if he liked his forefathers being slaves."