The Champions Tour is moving one of its majors to Birmingham’s Shoal Creek, the club that sparked controversy at the 1990 PGA Championship for what was then an all-white membership.
The Regions Tradition will replace the Champions Tour’s Jeld-Wen Tradition and the city’s Regions Charity Classic. It will be held from May 2 to May 8 next year at Shoal Creek Country Club, the first of five majors.
The venue hosted the PGA Championship in 1984 and 1990, but the media spotlight on the club’s all-white membership and remarks by founder Hall Thompson that his club wouldn’t be pressured into accepting black members sparked a controversy.
That prompted major golf organizations to adopt membership policies for tournament sites. Thompson, now 87, later apologized.
“It was 20 years ago,” Champions Tour president Mike Stevens said in an interview on Monday. “Shoal Creek’s membership policy complies with all the applicable laws and regulations relative to the PGA Tour. So it’s not an issue. It was 20 years ago, but I’ve said repeatedly that despite the situation that happened back in 1990 — and trust me, it was not a good statement — but what it caused golf to do is kind of look inside itself.
“The positives for golf that have come out of that are tremendous for the number of private golf courses that have opened up their membership for various minorities across the country, including Shoal Creek,” Stevens said.
Mike Thompson, Hall’s son and the tournament’s chairman, said the club has extended membership offers to 16 blacks in the community and five have joined. He said two others have said they hoped to eventually join the Country Club, which has about 600 members.
Landing the Champions Tour event, he said, is “a big deal.”
“We have waited 20 years for professional golf,” Mike Thompson said.
Shoal Creek eased back into the national golf scene by hosting the US Golf Association’s (USGA) 2008 US Junior Amateur Championship. The Southern Amateur was held on the course last month.
The USGA’s decision to hold the 2008 event “was kind of a signal to the major golf bodies that they wanted to come back,” Thompson said.
Before that, Shoal Creek had “very serious” talks in the late 1990s about hosting the 2002 PGA Tour Championship, he said.
He said Stevens met with club officials in May with the offer to host the Tradition.
“He says, ‘How about you guys doing an event one year from now?’ And we just about fell out of our chair,” Thompson said.
The event was held the past four years at Sunriver Resort’s Crosswater Golf Club in central Oregon. Jeld-Wen is ending its relationship as title sponsor.
“This took a lot of time, a lot of work. But quite honestly this is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to the Champions Tour,” Stevens said.
“Bringing a major championship to a major championship golf course is big for the Tour,” he added.
Stevens said he expects about half the players who won prize money at the PGA Championship in 1984 to participate and seven who made the cut in 1990 have won on the Champions Tour this year.
“The idea was to create an event that would be considered the best on the Champions Tour, indicative of the Masters,” he said. “This announcement today will allow this dream to absolutely continue.”