This week golf celebrates the first of it’s four “majors.” The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia is on the PGA schedule every year during the first full weekend in April. It was first played in 1934. The course, and by extension the club, will be fawned over and spoken about in reverent tones on CBS.
But shouldn’t we be repulsed by the past discrimination which was as natural to it’s membership as the famous magnolias and pine straw. By all accounts the environment has not really changed very much. The story is not pretty.
Augusta kept black golfers out of the Masters tournament for 40 years. Lee Elder was able to play in the 1975 Masters not because he was invited. It was only because he won a PGA tournament (1974 Monsanto Open) which granted automatic qualification to the Masters that he gained entrance.
But it would be another 16 years before a black man would be invited for club membership.
Augusta did not admit its first African-American member until 1990, at a time when controversy was erupting over Shoal Creek, an all-white Alabama club where the PGA Championship took place only after it admitted its first black member.
While limiting membership to white males for so long it also required all caddies to be black.
“As long as I’m alive,” said Clifford Roberts, one of the club’s founders in 1933 and a longtime Masters chairman, “all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”
No women were admitted to Augusta as members until 2012. In August of that year, it admitted its first two female members,Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
The reality is clear: Augusta had to be dragged kicking and screaming into changing their membership criteria. And it is still barely acceptable.
In my opinion the club should be able to admit (and not admit) whomever they want. They are a private club and should control their membership requirements. If it were up to me I would overturn the “public accommodation” findings in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other state provisions. In a truly free society a business owner should be allowed to decide with whom he trades. But the other side of that right is the freedom of potential customers to take their business elsewhere.
Few are the private golfers who would turn down an opportunity to play Augusta. Many are willing to overlook past transgressions, and current practices, for a chance to experience Amen Corner, et al.
But shouldn’t you ask yourself whether you would patronize a restaurant or other private business which was so discriminatory?
Let them control who they allow in. I will control who I patronize.