The year was 1965. I was thirteen years old and in junior high. I spent my summer making the big bucks by being a caddie. By big bucks, I mean four dollars for carrying a heavy bag for eighteen holes in the hot sun. Since it takes about four hours to play a round of golf, it breaks down to about a buck an hour with maybe a dollar or two tip. Well back then it seemed like big bucks.
The place of my youthful employment was Evanston Country Club in Skokie, Illinois. It was a pretty fancy place. The golf course was meticulously groomed. Beautiful fairways and greens. They had a lovely pool where you could cool off after playing golf or tennis. Their food service provided everything from fast food to four star meals in their dining room.
Evanston CC had all the amenities. It was the type of place where you would love to spend a summer afternoon. It was the type of place where you would love to be a member. There was just one problem.
NO JEWS ALLOWED!
This wasn't a policy that they posted publicly. You wouldn't find it in their brochure or on their marquee outside the country club. But it was talked about with regularity in the neighborhood. It was more than a little strange to do this in that area at that time. Skokie had a large Jewish population. It was only twenty years after World War Two. A lot of Jewish veterans were now married and were raising their families in Skokie.
You would think the club would be trying to target these families to become members. Strangely, they went in the opposite direction. The only Jews you would find inside their doors were the caddies. The club would let the caddies play golf on Monday afternoons for free. It may have been their way of showing that they weren't antisemitic. They weren't fooling anyone.
I wasn't conflicted at all about working there back then. I just wanted the money. My parents never said a thing about this. Neither did the parents of my other Jewish friends who also caddied there. So off to work we went. Our parents were probably happy to have us out of the house for a few hours without it costing them any money.
I wonder if they were conflicted?
Now that I'm an adult, I'm a bit more evolved about this topic. Although I no longer live in Skokie, I still go past Evanston Country Club fairly often. If I'm with someone, I'll always make a comment about the No Jews Allowed policy. If I'm alone, I'm thinking it. I'd never let my children work there. I'd want them to make their money at a place that's welcoming to our people and our community.
I'm certainly not conflicted about this.
This type of thinking was fairly common back then. Minorities weren't welcome at lots of places, so why should a golf club be any different. You would commonly see words like this:
"As long as I'm alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black."
That quote belongs to Clifford Roberts. He was the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club for forty-five years. That made him in charge of the Masters golf tournament. The first black golfer competed in the Masters in 1975...forty-four years into Roberts term as chairman.
When Roberts died in 1977, a plaque was unveiled in his honor at the clubhouse entrance.
Each year, before the tournament begins, there is a dinner for all the Masters champions. It's hosted by the player who won the previous year's tournament. He chooses the dinner menu. In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first person of color to win the Masters. After this victory, former Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller had this comment, "That little boy is driving well and he's putting well. He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
Oh yeah, I almost forgot about how they treated women. I'll let their former chairman Hootie Johnson explain:
"Our membership is single gender just as many other organizations and clubs all across America. These would include Junior Leagues, sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and countless others. And we all have a moral and legal right to organize our clubs the way we wish."
This was in 2002. Yeah, you could say Augusta National was just a bit behind the time....just a bit. They first two and only women members were finally admitted in 2012.
Augusta National and the Masters goes against most of my life beliefs. Yet, in spite of this, I spend four days every April glued for hours to my television, watching Golf. And when I'm not watching the Masters, I'm talking about it.
If you love Golf, there isn't a better tournament to watch than the Masters. The course is so aesthetically beautiful that it's a treat for your eyes. Everything is in bloom and you would be entertained by just looking at the scenery even if no golf was being played. Even the names of the holes are pretty. Tea Olive, Pink Dogwood, Flowering Peach, Magnolia, Carolina Cherry. I told you they were pretty!
Don't forget about Amen Corner.
It's just an easy watch. It's easy to sit back and get involved, no matter who is at the top of the leader board. That's what I do. That's what millions of people do each year. About one time each hour, I think about all of the other crap that goes on at Augusta and think I should stop watching, but I never do.
Then there's the golfers themselves. I've already mentioned that lovely quote from Fuzzy to Tiger. Oh yeah, let's not forget about the man himself. Besides all the crap he did almost a decade ago, Tiger plays golf with our current Potus. Yuck. So does the man most people consider the goat of Golf, Jack Nicklaus. In fact, here's a photo of Tiger, Jack and Don playing a round together. Triple Yuck! But, I have a philosophy where I try to keep my sports interests separate from my political beliefs. It works well for me most of the time. It's especially important to try this with golf because most of the players are very conservative. But that trio was a tough one to take and almost toss me over the edge....almost.
And still, in spite of all of this, I was watching last Sunday. I was watching intently. When Tiger made a birdie at the sixteenth hole to take a two shot lead, I threw a fist into the air. When Tiger tapped in on the eighteenth hole to win, I jumped up and cheered...and I was alone for all of this. Watching Tiger hug his caddie, mother and children was emotional and moving. How could you see this and not get all the feels, too?
I spent the next couple of hours watching all the interviews, the recaps and the awarding of the green jacket to Tiger. It was compelling television. It was almost impossible to pull yourself away from this....and yet there was this feeling that all of this was too much. It made you feel a little dirty. But again, you couldn't turn it off.
It's now four days since the Masters has ended. The celebration over Tiger's victory has died down some. The world is moving on to other things. Even the golf world will be moving on to the next tournament. It's the RBC Heritage at Harbor Town, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It's a lovely place but it's no Augusta National. Not many places are.
There's fifty-two weeks until the next Masters golf tournament. There's an entire year to celebrate Tiger's victory while also thinking about the other things that make you feel not so great. I'm sure I'll be watching again with the rest of the sporting world to see if Tiger can repeat or maybe there will be another intriguing story. I do know one thing. I'm sure I'll have mixed feelings about all of this. Once again I'll be...
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