Essay and drawing copyright 1993 by Barrie Maguire

Bigots in Baggy Pants

In the Fifties, my father, a successful builder, resident of an affluent Philadelphia suburb, and ardent golfer, was turned down for admission to the Merion Golf Club because he was Irish Catholic. He tried next at Overbrook Golf Club. Happily, Overbrook was an "Irish-Catholic golf club" and he was accepted. A few years later, when he proposed a close friend and business associate for membership at Overbrook, his friend was rejected because he had an Italian surname.

The beat goes on.

Once again, now that spring is here, you can find America’s wealthiest segregationists swarming once again on the fairways and greens, in the pro shops and clubhouses of the America’s classiest country clubs.

In the early nineties, Aronimink Country Club and Merion Golf Club withdrew as hosts of future PGA Championship and Women’s Open respectively, because neither club could promise that they would have minority members by then. (The crisis had been triggered when bad publicity forced professional golf’s ruling councils to begin requiring host clubs to demonstrate non-discriminatory membership policies.)

These two incidents have served to focus attention on what is, by any rational assessment, a national embarrassment: one hundred and thirty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks are still not allowed to belong to country clubs.

Am I oversimplifying? Sure. Am I distorting the essential truth? No.

But don’t think too harshly about the management at Merion or Aronimink or any of the other segregated clubs. Blame the membership. Club rules merely reflect the wishes of the members. Day after day, year after year, golf’s silent legions—wealthy, white women and men—vote their support for prejudice and segregation every time they pay their greens fees, restaurant vouchers, and monthly dues. Shame on them.

"I, personally, am not prejudiced," they always say when pressed. But try this simple test: ask any member of an exclusive country-club, "Why do you ban minorities from your club?" You’ll get a shrug of the shoulders, but no answer. And that’s because there is no answer, no moral or ethical explanation. They know it, you know it. But nobody knows it like the millions of American citizens who, in this, the last decade of the Twentieth Century, after all these years, are still banned from the clubs because of their race or color. (They used to have a word for that in South Africa.)

So the next time you’re driving past some elegant country club and you see those impeccably-dressed foursomes out there on those glorious green fairways, give them a little tap on your horn to remind them that you know who they are and what they stand for.

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