Monday, August 29, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Four Years Later, Shoal Creek Same -- Minority Club Members Hard To Find


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - To save the 1990 PGA Championship, Shoal Creek country club had to prove it wasn't segregated. So it accepted its first black member and promised to consider more.

Four years later, Birmingham businessman Louis Willie is still the only African-American member, and Shoal Creek has no plans to host any more pro tournaments.

After Willie was admitted, black leaders called off protests, gushing that the sport's racial exclusion was ending. The Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference hailed Willie's admission as the end of segregation in the sport. Now he says he's been double-crossed.

"It was just as I thought," Woods said. "They had a gun to their head. Once you remove the gun, they do nothing."

Shoal Creek won't confirm how many black members it has. "We do not discuss membership at all," said club president Carl Bailey. "That's the way our members want it."

He would only say that "some" blacks are employed at the club as "waiters, waitresses" and in "other work."

Shoal Creek hosted the PGA Championship in 1984 and 1990 and the U.S. Amateur in 1986. Bailey said the club is now in compliance with PGA and U.S. Golf Association guidelines requiring host sites to have open membership policies.

The 1990 uproar was set off when Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson was quoted as saying the club would not be pressured into accepting black members. Thompson said he was misquoted, but

sponsors began pulling advertisements and black leaders threatened protests.

A scene was averted when the club admitted Willie and announced it was considering a second black member, who apparently never was admitted.

It seemed fitting that Birmingham would stage a civil rights clash, but it could have happened anywhere. Other all-white clubs had to mend their ways to keep their championships. Some chose to lose the tournaments instead.

Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, added its first black member after threats that black groups would protest at the 1991 tournament. No one at the club would say how many black members it has now.

The passage of time at Shoal Creek and Augusta seems to have done nothing to a dubious trend: Many private clubs claim open membership policies, but minority members are as hard to find as a slice into the woods.

Woods said Willie's reputation for not getting mixed up in racial feuds was the main reason Shoal Creek chose him, as opposed to, say, Charles Barkley.

"I wonder how they would treat him," Woods said of the vocal NBA star from suburban Leeds. "It would have been a fine gesture to tender him an invitation."

Willie, president of an insurance firm, said he's never been mistreated at the club. "I take guests out there who are black; I play with white members," he said. "I've never had any inkling of evidence of resentment."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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