Color of Money Will Get PGA’s Attention
In 1961, Los Angeles had its second major golf tournament in history to play host to--the PGA at Brentwood Country Club in 1962. It had had the U.S. Open at Riviera in 1948, and the golf community was excited to get this second major.
Except, it never took place.
California had an attorney general with a conscience at the time--Stanley Mosk, later to become a State Supreme Court justice.
What Attorney General Mosk found exceptionable was a clause in the PGA bylaws restricting the membership to “Caucasians only.”
“Not in California,” the attorney general warned golf. The PGA could not hold the tournament here until and unless it removed that offensive clause, he said. It was against California public policy, to say nothing of a whole arsenal of moral and Constitutional guarantees. It was also 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Free men could certainly play golf.
The PGA moved the tournament to Aronomink in Philadelphia where, ironically, a South African won it: Gary Player.
Golf was the only sport that had discrimination in writing. When Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball, they violated no written law, just private policy. Football, basketball and, of course, boxing had no racial proscriptions.
The PGA bowed to public pressure and the Mosk initiative and removed the offending Caucasian clause the next year, thus making way not only for Charlie Sifford, who was the focal point of the Mosk action, but, presumably, Isao Aoki and Jumbo Ozaki, too. To say nothing of Orville J. Moody, who happened to be in large part American Indian.
Golf was not completely contrite. It promptly resorted to a rear-guard action in which it labeled its major tournaments “invitationals” as opposed to “opens.” This effectively weeded out the non-blue-eyes, too.
The Los Angeles Open, to its credit, had effectively broken the color line years before, in 1948, when it took the “Open” designation seriously and let players shoot their way in regardless of race, creed or previous condition. A superb black player who had been a redcap at the railroad station, Bill Spiller, not only shot his way in, he was the first-round leader in the ’48 L.A. Open, tied with Ben Hogan, no less, at 68. Bill was born decades too soon. But so was Dred Scott.
A lot of us thought the Masters should be integrated and said so. This invoked a rash of angry mail from Bobby Jones himself and Cliff Roberts at Augusta, pointing out that there were qualifications for invitation to their tournament.
There sure were. You could get in if you were on the Walker Cup team or won the British Amateur, for instance. You could get on the Walker Cup team if your father was a stockbroker, and you could win the British Amateur if your father owned Champion Spark Plug.
You could also get in the Masters if you were a foreign player. The Masters could invite foreign players at whim. And did so. That’s how Gary Player, who was to win three Masters, got in. The first non-Caucasian to play in the Masters was Chen Ching-po.
Charlie Sifford would have been better off if he came from Canton, China.
Our notion then was that the past Masters champions, who could invite whom they wished--their brothers-in-law, their bartenders, if they so chose--should invite, oh say, Charlie Sifford, to make up for years of unpardonable discrimination. The past champions passed. They invited Dow Finsterwald.
Jones and Roberts finally capitulated to the unfavorable publicity and expanded their invitation list to include any players who won a tournament in the calendar year just previous to their Masters. But it was too late for Sifford, who had won three tour events but in the years when they didn’t get you in Augusta--unless, of course, you won them in South Africa. Or South China. South Chicago didn’t count.
It has been nearly 30 years since Stanley Mosk levered the removal of an un-American clause from the rules of golf, PGA-style. It has been 15 since the first black player--Lee Elder--played in the Masters.
It was 23 years before a PGA came to Southern California, and then it came fittingly to a club--Riviera--that not only had non-Caucasian members, but is now owned by non-Caucasians.
Now, the PGA has evoked another racial furor. This time, it is not over the admission of black players, it is over the admission of black members to the host club.
I suppose this constitutes progress of a sort, but the founder of the host Shoal Creek Country Club in Alabama didn’t help matters any when he unloaded a few quotes that were right out of the wit and wisdom of Simon Legree.
The realities of the matter are, the majority of today’s golf tournaments, invitational or open, are held at clubs that don’t have any black members. The activists of today, like Attorney General Mosk in ‘61, hope to be able to shock them into changing by hitting the game where it lives--in the pocketbook, on television’s cuff.
They can’t move the tournament to Aronomink this time. Unlike Mosk, the agitation this time did not give them a year to take cover.
What will the tour do if its beer and automobile sponsors, frightened by the specter of pickets, boycotts and the stigma of discrimination, continue taking to the hills?
That’s easy. It will stage tournaments where the clubs not only permit, but have black members. That’s a $41-million tour out there, with hundreds of millions more at stake. A golf tournament brings an awful lot of fresh money to a community. Just ask the Scots. Or, for that matter, the black mayor of Birmingham. My guess is the PGA will go out and help clubs recruit black members.
Every three decades, the PGA takes a small step into the 20th Century. They’d better hope David Frost doesn’t win this PGA at Shoal Creek. They got away with a South African winning at Aronomink. It won’t go down so easy this time.
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