On the surface, everything had seemed OK. Calvin Peete had always been able to play on any golf course where the PGA Tour stopped. None of the professional players had ever been denied access to a locker room. No fan had ever been turned away because of color.
"So it was a slap in the face to us when the Shoal Creek situation happened," said Sid Wilson, director of public relations for the PGA Tour. "But as our commissioner said, it wasn't a tough decision for us to make, at all. Either the clubs where we play our events have a non-discrimination membership policy or we don't play our events there."
The situation at Shoal Creek Golf Course in Birmingham, Ala., was the most important social issue to affect golf in years. No blacks were permitted to become members of the exclusive club, site of the 1990 PGA Championship, one of golf's four major tournaments.
It wasn't the first time a PGA tournament was to be played at a course practicing discrimination in its membership policies, but it was the first time the issue was met head-on. Shoal Creek, after tremendous public pressure, signed its first black member, and the tournament was played as scheduled.
The PGA Championship is not organized or scheduled by the PGA Tour, but by the PGA of America, a separate organization that oversees golf club professionals. But the PGA Tour sanctions the event, and the spillover has affected every organization that schedules tournaments for the touring players, including Augusta National, home of the Masters, which recently signed its first black member.
This year, the PGA Tour pulled tournaments from five clubs that said they could not comply with a membership policy of non-discrimination.
"After Shoal Creek, we began dialogue and correspondence with the 119 sites of the events we are involved in, which includes the PGA Tour, the Senior PGA Tour and the Hogan Tour," Wilson said. "Five clubs said they could not comply, for whatever reason--two on the regular tour (Butler National in Chicago and Cypress Point in Pebble Beach); two on the senior tour (Old Warson in St. Louis and Skokie Country Club in Skokie, Ill.), and one on the Hogan tour (Amarillo Country Club in Amarillo, Tex.).
"In the past, all we really asked of the clubs that hosted events is that the course was of championship caliber and that the tournament would be marketable. And now, we also require that they do not have policies or practice discrimination of any kind among their membership."
That doesn't mean that all clubs holding PGA events have black members. But Wilson said the clubs the PGA Tour is involved in are making an ongoing effort, well documented, to rectify their policies.
Riviera Country Club, host of the Los Angeles Open this week, has seemingly not discriminated in its membership policies. In a recent interview, former owner Frank Hathaway said that when his grandfather, Frank Garbutt, founded the club in 1926, he established a policy of non-discrimination. The club was sold in 1989 to Noboru Watanabe, a Japanese businessman.
"In the bylaws, it specifies non-discrimination based on religious orientation, national origin or sexual orientation, etc., all of that," said Nancy Pearl, director of membership, marketing and communications for Riviera. "We have members who are women, blacks and Orientals; we have all kinds of people. But we don't keep an official breakdown. "
Pearl said the membership count is officially at 575, although the actual membership, because of different types of programs, exceeds that number.
An interesting note is the method by which Riviera attempts to prevent sexual discrimination. The type of membership purchased determines when one may play the course, so men and women are not restricted to separate days and times.
A Gold membership costs $370 a month and allows a member to play at more prime times. A Silver membership costs $250 a month and limits play to less popular times. The monthly fee is in addition to the $25,000 initiation fee. Riviera's membership is currently closed.