News & ToursAugust 23, 2010

The resurrection of Shoal Creek

It was probably past due, professional tournament golf returning to Shoal Creek, but then how can you know when an appropriate penance has been paid in full on a racial injustice?

Twenty years have passed since Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson ignited a firestorm that helped drag golf into the 20th century just in time for the 21st century. When he was asked why the club had no black members, he infamously replied, "because that's just not done in Birmingham, Ala."

Next May, Shoal Creek will host the Regions Tradition, a Champions Tour event and the first high-profile professional event since the controversial PGA Championship was played there in 1990.

Shoal Creek, a Jack Nicklaus design, had been destined to host major championships. It was the site of two, the PGA Championship in 1984 and '90, as well as the 1986 U.S. Amateur. Today, it is ranked 50th in Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest.

But in the wake of the controversy, it hosted only lesser events, including a collegiate tournament, the Jerry Pate Invitational, that Tiger Woods won as a Stanford freshman in October of 1994. His teammates teased Woods by referring to it as Soul Creek.

Prior to the final round, a group of African-Americans who had asked that he boycott the event formed outside Shoal Creek's gates to protest his playing there.

Today, Shoal Creek has several African-American members, including Condoleezza Rice, because that is done in Birmingham and virtually everywhere else these days. That's the legacy of Shoal Creek, from which a disservice ultimately provided a service to a game in dire need of one.

-- John Strege

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