Two years after the all-male membership of Augusta National became a subject of national debate, the relevance of private club memberships of several volunteer leaders of the United States Golf Association still remains a controversial issue inside and outside the nonprofit organization.
Several officers of the USGA, which governs golf in the United States and Mexico and sets the rules and equipment standards for the game, have been questioned publicly about their memberships at Augusta National, and the organization's next likely president, prominent Atlanta lawyer Walter W. Driver Jr., almost certainly will receive similar scrutiny over his membership at Peachtree Golf Club, an exclusive Atlanta club that apparently has no black members.
That would make Peachtree ineligible to host a USGA championship by the organization's own standards and raises again the question of how the leadership of an organization whose credo is "for the good of the game" can reconcile its positions on memberships in clubs with exclusionary practices.
"It's definitely something that should be looked into," said Clinton E. Dye, president of the Atlanta Urban League. "If one is going to promote that kind of involvement in an organization [USGA], you would think they would not allow themselves to belong to a club without minority membership."
The USGA's officers and executive board, all unpaid volunteers, oversee another 1,400 volunteers who serve on 30 USGA committees. The organization's full-time staff is headquartered in Far Hills, N.J., and is run by Executive Director David Fay. Its charitable arm, the USGA Foundation, last year awarded grants of $5.7 million, many to programs dedicated to making the game more affordable and accessible to female and minority golfers.
Marty Parkes, a spokesman for the USGA, said the organization "does not have any formal policy on the clubs our officers and members of the executive board can belong to. They're all volunteers, so we have no policy other than where we'll hold our championships."
Driver, 58, said in a telephone interview this week that he has been a member at Peachtree for more than 20 years. Founded in 1948 and located in north Atlanta, the club has not come under previous scrutiny because unlike Augusta National, it does not hold any outside professional championships.
Driver, who according to his law firm's Web site has served on Peachtree's board of directors, declined several times to comment on the club's membership policy, nor would he confirm or deny that the club has no black members.
But three current Peachtree employees contacted in recent weeks all said the club has no black members. "As far as I know, there are none," said longtime caddie master Sammy Perkins. Asked if there had ever been a black member at the club, Perkins said, "You better call the office about that."
G. Mead Grady, Peachtree's general manager, declined to comment when asked about the club's membership policies and referred a reporter to Peachtree president Danny Yates.
"We're a private club," Yates said in a telephone interview. "We don't discuss our membership. I'm sorry, I can't help you."
Said Driver: "I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on any private club. The USGA has 9,000 member clubs, and we don't police their membership practices. . . . Where I play golf is a private matter. I don't think the USGA feels it's appropriate to supervise people's rights of association."
Fred Ridley, a Tampa real estate lawyer, was selected as president of the USGA in February for what is traditionally a two-year term. Driver, now also chairman of the USGA's championship committee, was chosen as vice president at the same time for the third straight year and is next in line for the presidency.
"It would be presumptuous of me to assume I'll be president," said Driver, who also served two years as the organization's treasurer and was its senior counsel in 1997-98. "But I'm happy for anyone to look at my record at the USGA and to be judged on that record. I think it's been exemplary and been a positive contribution to the USGA and everything it stands for. I was also the chairman of the committee that approved the grant process for the USGA to commit $50 million to make golf more accessible."
Driver is chairman of the prominent Atlanta law firm King & Spalding, which represented Coca-Cola in a landmark racial discrimination suit in which the company eventually agreed in November 2000 to a $192 million settlement in the class action case. The company's Web site includes a section on diversity that boasts of the firm's record in the area of hiring female and black attorneys.
Driver was asked how he reconciles the likelihood of being the next president of an organization that promotes and funds programs charged with improving diversity and access to the game while still belonging to clubs with exclusionary practices. He repeated that his club memberships were "a private matter" that had nothing to do with his voluntary role at the USGA.
Cyrus Mehri, a Washington lawyer who is working with the National Council of Women's Organizations Chairwoman Martha Burk in an attempt to change Augusta National's all-male makeup, said the news of Driver's association with a club that has no black members, even as he holds a significant title within the USGA, was "astonishing."
"It's sad and outrageous that in this day and age, there is this level of exclusionary practices at a club, and that a man in his position would associate himself with that kind of club," said Mehri, who also has played a prominent role in pushing the NFL to increase its number of black head coaches. "It just shows that excluding people based on race and gender is really not that far apart."
The issue of racial discrimination at golf clubs came to the fore in 1990. That year's host of the PGA Championship, Shoal Creek in Birmingham, was widely criticized after its club president was quoted in the media about its membership, which included no minorities. In 1991, the main governing bodies of golf in the United States -- the USGA, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America and the LPGA Tour -- all added provisions to their rules that said their organizations would not conduct any of their tournaments at clubs or courses that discriminated on the basis of race, religion or gender.
Peachtree hosted the 1989 Walker Cup matches, a USGA match-play competition between amateur golfers from the United States and Britain. However, since the rule changes on discrimination, the USGA has not staged an event there, though the course almost always is listed among America's top 100 venues.
Fay said he preferred not to comment on Driver's membership in a club that has no black members, saying only, "If that is the case, that is his personal decision." In 2000, Fay resigned his membership at Pine Valley, which many consider the finest course in the country, in protestation of its no-females policy.
Asked about his memberships at Augusta National and Pine Valley during a USGA news conference at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, Ridley said: "The only thing I would say is that the USGA has terrific programs and supports all golfers, including women golfers, young girls. It's just a wonderful program."
At that same session, when Ridley asked Driver, sitting across from him, if he had anything to add, Driver said, "Nothing."
Several USGA staff members said recently they had serious concerns over the memberships held by Ridley, Driver and other top USGA volunteer officers in clubs that to do not have black or female members but were powerless to do anything about it. They declined to have their names attributed to such statements for fear of jeopardizing their jobs.
Reed McKenzie, the 2002-03 USGA president, said he preferred not to pass judgment on the club memberships of any USGA officer, saying: "It's hard to make up your own mind on why you want to join a certain club, let alone make up somebody else's mind. I should mind my own business on this one.
"I will say that at my club [Hazeltine in Minnesota], we've tried like crazy to diversify and get more women and people of color. We haven't been great at it, but we have really made the effort. For me to say someone is a bad person because they're in a club that doesn't have that kind of diversity in membership makes no sense. All private clubs discriminate in some form or another. I know what my club does, and I believe it's the right way to go, but let's leave it at that."