Wednesday, August 1, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Why Louis Willie Climbed Over Racial Barrier -- Birmingham Club's First Black Member Wanted To Defuse Pga Protest


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Louis Willie, the first black admitted to the Shoal Creek Country Club, said he climbed the racial barrier at the site of the 1990 PGA Championship to defuse a highly charged situation.

``I did not volunteer for this,'' Willie said yesterday. ``But the mayor sent word he would like for me to do this. I am doing it for the community.''

Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington announced yesterday that Willie, 66, president of Booker T. Washington Insurance Co., has accepted an honorary membership at the club south of Birmingham.

Shoal Creek also is considering the application of a second black. But officials at the club - which founder Hall Thompson said a month ago could not be pressured into accepting black members - refused to identify the applicant.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights group, called off plans to stage protests at the site after the agreement.

``I feel this is a great day for Birmingham and the community,'' Willie said of his membership. ``I think it will avoid a potentially explosive and unpleasant event.''

Willie was the first black member of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, The Downtown Club and The Club, all civic and social clubs.

By granting an honorary membership, Shoal Creek spared Willie the cost of its $35,000 initiation fee and an application process that takes as long as six months. More to the point, though, Shoal Creek spared itself picket lines and more bad publicity for the PGA Championship, Aug. 9-12.

``I'm glad people can make progress,'' pro Corey Pavin said. ``When that happens, it can't be bad for society.''

Other players, including Fuzzy Zoeller and Lanny Wadkins, refused any specific discussion of the matter.

``I play golf, not politics,'' Zoeller said.

``That's one controversy I don't need to be drawn into,'' Wadkins said.

Jim Thorpe, 41, a black pro caught squarely in the racial overtones of the controversy, said if he were to start boycotting tournaments at clubs that don't have black members ``I'd have to miss three-fourths of the tour events.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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