Breaking par against racism: beyond Shoal Creek.
Some of the oldest, most established clubs in America now have black members, including Shinnecock and Winged Foot in New York, Medina and Olympia Fields in Chicago, Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Baltusrol in New Jersey, Augusta National in Georgia, the Robert Trent Jones Country Club in Virginia and the Los Angeles Country Club. Yet, prior to Shoal Creek, a black man stood a better chance of being elected president than of being accepted as a member at most all-white country clubs.
"Either one or two things used to happen if you asked a guy to sponsor you at his club," says Darwin N. Davis, senior vice president of external relations at The Equitable Companies Inc. in New York. "Either you never heard from him again, or he'd come back and say, `Darwin, I don't believe this. I'm shocked. The club members don't even want to discuss this. They told me that if I don't like it, then get the hell out. There's nothing I can do.' "
"Their excuse," says James H. Lowry, owner of the Chicago-based management consulting firm that bears his name, "was that they did not control the board or the membership committee, that they, themselves, did not have the clout. Bullshit. You could note the many times a new CEO was coming to Chicago and within a year or two they were members of a private club."
There can be no denying that the threat of losing prestigious tournaments has been the single biggest impetus for change. Shoal Creek's membership reversed field in midstream and quickly admitted Birmingham businessman Louis Willie when it realized that it was about to lose the esteemed PGA Championships. "When they want to host a tournament," Davis chuckles, "all of a sudden there's room for black members."
Lowry offers two other possible reasons for the change of policies, if not entirely a change of hearts. "I think you have in all of these clubs a minority of members who finally said, `Hey, its the 1990s. It's time to get off this stuff.' Plus, from our side, there were so many of us who were members of major charity boards, advisory boards and the like, that it just got to be downright embarrassing."
Now Lowry is a member at Medina. Milt Irvin, managing director of Salomon Brothers, is a member at Baltusrol. Bill Lewis, head of real estate at Morgan Stanley is at Shinnecock. Nathaniel Goldston, chairman and CEO of Gourmet Services Inc., the Atlanta-based BE 100s company, is at the Golf Club of Georgia. Jim Davis, senior vice president of Georgia Power, is at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Roy Clay, owner and president of Rod-L Electronics Inc., is a member at The Olympic Club. Joe Anderson, chairman and CEO of Chivas Products, is a member at Oakland Hills, Eric Johnson, president of Baldwin Ice Cream, is a member at Olympia Fields, former NFL wide receiver Gene Washington is a member at the Los Angeles Country Club and high-powered attorney Vernon Jordan is a member at Robert Trent Jones Country Club. And the list keeps growing.
"Shoal Creek has certainly made everybody involved in golf more determined to take steps to insure that it's a sport of inclusion rather than exclusion," says David Fay, executive director of the United States Golf Association (USGA). "From what I've been able to tell, in most parts of the country it has become a buyer's market. By that I mean that if an African American wants to join a private club, you generally have a lot of choices because most of these clubs are looking for people who are interested in joining their club."
Whether these same clubs are interested in accepting more than one or two blacks is the issue today, six years after Thompson's remarks became a watershed event. That and the more practical question of whether it is really worth the initial $20,000-$35,000 investment and the monthly dues of roughly $6,000-$7,000 to belong to one of these clubs.
George Lewis, vice president and treasurer at Phillip Morris Companies Inc., is one of a handful of African Americans who was a member of an old, established club before Shoal Creek. He was accepted into New York's St. Andrews Golf Club in 1988 and had been a member of the Ville Du Parc Country Club in Milwaukee before that.
"I had been away from New York for a couple of years, but when I returned as vice president and treasurer of Phillip Morris, I said, `Hell, I'm a vp, I should be able to get in any club I want to,' " Lewis recalls. "As I talked to a number of people, I told them that I was interested in getting in and I'd appreciate their help. Some would come back and say there weren't any openings, or give me some other reason. It got to the point that I got very discouraged.
"In 1988, Carl Horton of Seagrams was playing golf at St. Andrews with another member," Lewis continues. "Carl got the two of us together and I told him that I really would be interested in joining, that I'd been trying for four years. He said he'd call the committee chairman the next morning and let me know. I didn't expect to hear back from him, but he called Monday morning and said `Fine, no problem.' He sponsored me and I was admitted."
Lewis, in turn, sponsored Davis, who sponsored Ron Gault, managing director at JP Morgan, who sponsored...well, suffice to say that St. Andrews now has six black members, with Lewis sitting on the powerful finance and investment committees and Davis on the golf committee.
"It was very difficult pre-Shoal Creek," says Lewis. "I think now, after Shoal Creek, more blacks can get in to these clubs but there are clubs in the Connecticut area that don't have any minority members and don't have any intention of adding any. I would say overall that there are clubs that will consider one or two. I'm not sure they're interested once they get past two."
Shoal Creek or no Shoal Creek, the possibility of being the only black member at a club-just doesn't appeal to some black businessmen. What's the purpose in joining, they argue, if there are not enough black members to have a foursome? Plus, the new golf communities that are going up have a diverse racial mix from the start and some have facilities as nice, if not nicer than the old guard clubs. Davis's answer: "You have to have one before you can have four."
At the same time, Davis understands that the country club setting isn't for everyone. "I've got these friends in Detroit, nice, upstanding doctors, and they're still playing public courses, still taking six hours to finish a round of golf," he says. "I ask them all the time, `Why are you still doing this? Why are you so cheap?' And they say, `I'm not going to go and give my money to those white people.' Some people choose not to belong to a club. It's true with white people and it's true with black people. But you should be able to if you want to."
To say that Davis feels strongly about the issue would be an understatement. In June of 1990 he and Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and argued that the discriminatory practices of clubs in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Westchester County, New York, were hurting him professionally and financially. "I make enough money to be a member," he told them. "I'm a gentleman and a family man. I love golf. There is nothing about me--except the color of my skin--that keeps me from membership in a full-service private country club." Davis also argued that such practices were hurting his family, too. "My counterpart and his son or daughter practice and take lessons at their club," he said. "His children grow up with the knowledge of how to use the club for social and business reasons. My children don't get this experience and, once again, the cycle is repeated. Second-class citizenship is perpetuated all over again."
Of course, there are those in the black community who wonder why so much is made of belonging to country clubs when teen pregnancy, drugs, crime, truancy and unemployment plague their neighborhoods. Lowry says he asked himself the same question: Does this make any sense? "But I said, `Why not?' If I'm enough to be on all these boards, if I'm good enough to be an advisor to governors and presidents, why can't I be a member of a country club? There is no denying that deals are cut at country clubs. If I invite someone to be in my foursome at Medina, as opposed to my foursome at some other club, I get a response."
Lowry also contends that the onus is on black businesspeople to demonstrate to their white peers that it's no big thing to associate with each other. He integrated the first noon luncheon club in Chicago. Now virtually 50 percent of the crowd are African Americans, women and other minorities. The real benefactors, in Lowry's mind, will be his children and their children. "Once these kids grow up in this environment, as I was brought up in it, you accept that people are people, and they don't intimidate you, and you go about your business. The more we teach our kids to accept that and the feeling that they're just as good or better as the kid next door, we're better of as a black community."
Lewis agrees. That's why he firmly believes that black businespeople should continue to accept invitations to join clubs that have yet to integrate their memberships. "I got to the point where I almost stopped accepting their invitations," he reveals, "but I figured that would defeat the purpose. I think it's important that we let these people know that we do know how to play golf, that we do know how to conduct ourselves. We need to make them open their eyes and see that this is pure stupidity that they don't have an open policy.
"Most of the time when I'm playing with them, I say, `Hey, listen, do you have any black members out here?' I know they don't, but hopefully I make them feel a little uncomfortable and hopefully I enlighten them. The interesting thing about golf is that once people get past this race thing, they say, `Hey, this guy can play.' Everybody loves being around a good golfer."
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|Title Annotation:||Third Annual Black Enterprise/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge: Special Supplement; African Americans and white country clubs|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1996|
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