Golf should apply pressure to oppose Indiana's new law

Golf should apply pressure to oppose Indiana's new law

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Golf should apply pressure to oppose Indiana's new law

I wonder what golf would look like if 10 percent of players suddenly were made to feel unwelcome. A new law passed in Indiana grants wide discretion to facilities to refuse service to clients if the managers of the host enterprise think that accommodating certain people would violate their own institutional religious freedom. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which will take effect July 1, is an open invitation to discriminate against homosexuals. The gay and lesbian community is in an uproar. The golf community is beginning to speak out as well. Louder voices are needed.

The sooner, the better, especially with major golf events on the calendar for Indiana. An NCAA Division I women’s regional is scheduled for May 7-9 at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course in South Bend, followed by a Division I men’s regional May 14-16 at Sagamore Golf Club in Noblesville. The National Junior College Athletic Association championship will be May 18-23 at Swan Lake Country Club in Plymouth. And the national TV spotlight will be on the 76th Senior PGA Championship on May 21-24 at Pete Dye Course at French Lick Springs. It’s not too late for the sponsoring organizations to threaten a change of venue. At the very least, each group should be mobilized with public-service announcements and onsite programming to make it clear that legalized discrimination has no place in golf.

With the vast majority of Indiana’s 527 courses accommodating public play, daily-fee players need to know that their money is good in the pro shop, regardless of their personal lifestyle. The same can be said for the state’s private clubs, where bias against gays and lesbians should have no place on the tee sheet and on membership rolls. It would be sad, indeed, if the answer in Indiana to the question What’s your handicap? would be subject to legal discrimination.

Already, the PGA Tour, PGA of America and LPGA have issued generic statements affirming their commitment to openness and inclusion. These are important first steps in what is a political issue with widespread national significance. Already a bill similar to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is on the docket in Arkansas. It’s not too late for the LPGA to make it clear to that state’s leaders that if such a bill goes through, it will not proceed with the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June.

The LPGA has a particular stake in this issue, given the widely recognized diversity of its own membership and fan base. What used to be a secret actually is a strength of the organization. It’s also what makes this week’s LPGA event in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the ANA Inspiration (formerly known as The Dinah Shore) such a festive gathering.

Understandably, there is a certain reluctance among golfers to rock the boat, whether by politics or disposition. But this is a tide that affects all vessels. There is no getting away from the poisonous atmosphere of a culture that tolerates and embraces selective discrimination, even in the name of religious freedom.

For decades, the golf industry hid an ugly truth about its own tolerance of racial discrimination. There are those who prefer to leave that as a matter of the past. But this is one of those cases in which we openly can apply a lesson from history and take a leadership role in saying no to wanton bias.

Sometimes, there’s no hiding. After all, you can’t practice golf in a closet.

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