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Hall Thompson, controversial Shoal Creek founder, passes away

Jay Busbee
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Hall Thompson, the controversial founder of Shaol Creek Golf and Country Club in Alabama, whose words unwittingly kicked off a racial crisis in the sport, has passed away. He was 87.

Thompson developed Shoal Creek in the Birmingham suburbs in 1977. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course hosted the 1984 and 1990 PGA Championships, and has consistently ranked among the best in the country for its design.

However, it's not Shoal Creek's layout that brought it notoriety; it's the golfers permitted to play on its holes. Shoal Creek was a private, all-white club when, in 1990, Thompson told the Birmingham Post-Herald that "this is our home, and we pick and choose who we want. We have the right to associate or not associate with whomever we choose." Thompson later claimed he was misquoted.

Even so, that comment set the airwaves ablaze, and that was before the Internet. Sponsors pulled $2 million in commercials from PGA Championship broadcasters ABC and ESPN. African-American groups threatened to picket the club during the tournament. And just days before the tournament began, the club gave an honorary membership to a local insurance executive.

As a result of Shoal Creek, the PGA Tour, the LPGA, the PGA of America and the USGA all adopted guidelines mandating that clubs could not discriminate. (Note that Augusta does not fall under the purview of any of these organizations.) If courses did not meet the standards, they would be dropped from consideration, and 11 clubs failed to meet the standards. (At least one, Aronomink Golf Club, has revised its policies and again is in the tournament rotation.)

Shoal Creek, meanwhile, has also gotten back in the good graces of the golf establishment -- or, more properly, the public -- and has hosted the U.S. Amateur Championship and will be hosting other tournaments in the future.

Oh, and in September 2009, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became a member.

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