Golf Club Discrimination
by Steve Sailer
Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/12/90
When the Masters Tournament returns again in April to Augusta National, the world's most exclusive golf club, one subtle but historic difference will be visible. For the first time at the club where golf's racial gap has been most conspicuous, with its white members served by an army of black caddies, waiters, and shoeshine boys, one of the green-jacketed host-members will have a black face. Mr. Ron Townsend, a television executive, was admitted immediately following the brouhaha that erupted at last summer's PGA Golf Championship after the founder of the host club, Shoal Creek, publicly conceded that his club did not want African-Americans as members.
Although applicants normally wait years to enter top clubs, Mr. Townsend was invited in only a week after Augusta National officials first contacted him. While the club contends that fear of losing advertisers had nothing to do with its decision, we can reasonably chalk up another success to that effective weapon against racial discrimination, the profit motive. In pursuit of a buck, people will rise above their own worst natures.
Last summer's furor over Shoal Creek lead IBM, Toyota and several other sponsors to threaten to pull their ads from the PGA Championship broadcast, forcing Shoal Creek to hustle a local black executive into the club. To forestall future losses in advertising dollars, the organizing bodies that stage pro tournaments quickly implemented policies effectively eliminating clubs without racially and sexually integrated memberships from consideration for future events. Other clubs besides Augusta National began scurrying after the potential minority members they had so long disdained. The PGA Tour says that 80% to 90% of its host clubs will comply rather than give up tournaments.
Of course, many of the executives of the corporations that piously boycotted Shoal Creek belong to discriminatory clubs themselves, but the virtue of capitalism is that it enlists not only the saints, but also the rest of us sinners in benefiting society.
Although we are routinely told that the profit motive corrupts our innate idealism, the reality may be closer to the opposite: the discipline of competition turns a lot of our inborn bad habits, such as the urge to avoid people who are different from us, into expensive luxuries. Capitalists built private country clubs in large part as refuges from the strains of capitalism, especially from that irritating business necessity of having to deal with outsiders (whether Jews, Catholics, or Protestants, nouveau riches or old money snobs) simply because they had money.
In contrast, private clubs were established precisely as places where one man's money was not as good as another's. Discrimination was a driving force behind the profusion of private clubs during the first half of the century: people blackballed by the established clubs started their own, where they in turn could blackball others. For example, wealthy German Jews turned away by WASP clubs built their own, and then frequently refused membership to Russian Jews. And no matter how low their club stood in the country club pecking order, members could always console themselves by keeping out African-Americans.
Even today, the premiere clubs ration memberships Soviet-style: how long you will wait, who your friends are, and who your father was. Since they don't discriminate solely on ability to pay (for example, a lifetime membership at Augusta National is merely $25,000 and monthly dues are $100), they can afford to discriminate on race, religion, ethnicity, or whim. (The Los Angeles Country Club, for example, blackballs actors, although the members have apparently overcome this scruple regarding the recent application of Mr. Ronald Reagan; and Seminole in Florida turned down Mr. Jack Nicklaus for being an excessively good golfer). New members, who are indebted to the old members for charging them less than a fair price, feel compelled by gratitude to let the old boys perpetuate their racist policies.
Of course, our Constitution wisely guarantees freedom of association. Any private club should be allowed to carry out any membership policy, no matter how absurd . . . as long as the club can pay the price. In our competitive world, however, the cost of preserving Neanderthal prejudices is growing expensive.
Racism is being challenged by rampant capitalism. Televised tournaments can now bring millions in cash and, probably of equal importance, add unmeasurable prestige to the host club's golf course; but a club cannot reap these benefits today without ending discrimination. Fortunately, more than a few clubs are now choosing like Augusta National to sell out on their old principles (such as they were), grab the money and fame, and integrate.
America's most celebrated amateur golf fanatic, Mr. Michael Jordan, illustrates the erosion of prejudice by free markets. Rather than put his name on the waiting list at one of the venerable clubs in Chicago (a city in which only about a half-dozen African-Americans in total belong to clubs), he bought a $48,000 corporate membership at Wynstone, a new for-profit real estate development where the high price eliminates the waiting list.
The lesson is this: The more people care about the color of your money, the less they can afford to care about the color of your skin.
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Steve Sailer (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Midwestern businessman, can be found on summer Sundays at Pine Meadow, a for-profit golf course.
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