It sat undisturbed during the hurly-burly of last week's AT&T
Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, an emerald fairyland in the ocean
mist. As Spyglass Hill, Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach were being
trampled by Tiger trackers, a few miles up the rocky coast
Cypress Point Club remained underused and sorely missed. Seven
years have passed since Cypress dropped out of the AT&T rather
than conform to a PGA Tour antidiscrimination policy by
recruiting an African-American member, and the club's absence in
the three-course rotation has left a void.
This is an article from the Feb. 10, 1997 issue
Cypress Point, in the words of Sandy Tatum, the former president
of the USGA who is one of the club's members, is the Sistine
Chapel of golf. Cypress's par-3 16th hole, which spans a
churning inlet of the Pacific, provides the most thrilling tee
shot in the game. The course's fragrant journey through forests
and dunes is a magical tour that fills the senses. "The most
beautiful of all the courses we have made is Cypress Point,"
wrote its famed architect, Alister Mackenzie. "Apart from the
golf, it is the only course I know where one literally gasps
with astonishment at its beauty." That gasp used to be a
collective one during the week of the AT&T, shared by galleries,
television viewers and, most of all, the pros and amateurs who
were fortunate enough to play treasured rounds there. But since
1991--the first year the tournament was played without Cypress
because of Tour rules adopted after the controversial staging of
the 1990 PGA Championship at then all-white Shoal Creek in
Birmingham--no one but the club's 230 members and their guests
have been allowed to enjoy the course. The fact that Cypress is
no longer a part of the tournament it graced for more than four
decades has been enough to cause some players, like Lanny
Wadkins, who won his only major, the 1977 PGA, at Pebble Beach,
to stop playing in the AT&T.
Although any course would suffer in comparison, Poppy Hills
hasn't come close as a fill-in. A modern inland course with
oddly sloped fairways and severely undulating greens, Poppy has
been dubbed Sloppy Hills by the pros. "I'm sorry, Poppy Hills
just doesn't get it," says Fuzzy Zoeller. "They should have left
it to the deer."
Cypress Point is a hot button for the players who have
faithfully played in the tournament since Bing Crosby was its
doyen. "You used to have two of the great golf courses in the
world in Cypress and Pebble, and when you take one of them out,
you lose a lot," says Jack Nicklaus. "To not have people see the
shot on the 16th hole, with the way we do television today, is
really a shame."
Johnny Miller goes a step further. "With Cypress, this
tournament had the three greatest courses anywhere in the world
in one area," he says. "That alone put it above the other
tournaments. Now that specialness is gone."
"It's not the same feeling," says Ken Venturi, who has played at
Cypress Point since he was a teenager. "The whole world would
like to go back to Cypress." Unfortunately, the club has chosen
to keep the world out.
For all its beauty, Cypress, one of the most private and
exclusive clubs in the country, can be a forbidding place. Bob
Hope once got a huge laugh at a dinner during the tournament
when he joked, "I understand Cypress Point held a membership
drive recently. It was successful. They drove out 20 members."
Fearful of reprisals, some of those interviewed for this story
asked that their names not be used. But they, along with those
who did go on the record, agree on one thing: The AT&T will not
be welcomed back to Cypress anytime soon. "I know of nothing in
the wings that would say we would be looking at going back to
Cypress Point," says J.B. McIntosh, who has belonged to the club
for 20 years and is an influential member of the Monterey
Peninsula Golf Foundation board, which allocates money raised by
the tournament. Says Bob Allen, the chairman of AT&T and a
Cypress member since 1993, "Everybody would love to have Cypress
back in the rotation, but most people have gotten used to the
fact that it's probably not going to happen." Even Clint
Eastwood, another member of the club and the chairman of the
golf foundation, says, "Things have been going along pretty good
the way they are. You have to live with what they deal you."
Some members say that Cypress Point jettisoned the tournament
not because it is averse to accepting an African-American, but
because an influential group of old-line members didn't want to
give up the course for a week. "The tournament and all the
practice rounds, it was something a lot of people had grown
tired of," says a member who prefers not to be named. "When the
Shoal Creek thing happened, it just gave the club an excuse to
Others say that the club's willingness to give up the tournament
was simply the reaction of powerful men to unwanted scrutiny by
the Tour. "These are mostly CEO-types who are used to getting
their own way, and they didn't want to be told what to do," says
another member who wishes to remain anonymous. "They didn't want
their membership practices under a microscope, not just as they
pertain to minority candidates, but for anybody."
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who says he would be delighted to
see a conforming Cypress Point back at the AT&T, has no regrets
about the Tour's stance. "The steps we took at that time were
appropriate," he says. "Our policy to promote diversity was
either going to be firmly in place or it wasn't going to work."
When the Tour's policy, and similar guidelines by the USGA and
PGA of America, went into effect after Shoal Creek, 11 clubs
with tournaments declined to conform. Since then, four of
them--Annandale Golf Club (Pasadena), Aronimink Golf Club
(Newton Square, Pa.), Merion Golf Club (Ardmore, Pa.) and Old
Warson Country Club (Ladue, Mo.)--have come into compliance.
Butler National Golf Club (Oak Brook, Ill.), Chicago Golf Club
(Wheaton, Ill.), Amarillo (Texas) Country Club, the Country Club
of Louisiana (Baton Rouge), Skokie (Glencoe, Ill.) Country Club,
St. Louis Country Club (Clayton, Mo.) and Cypress Point have not.
Cypress Point's viewpoint on the membership issue has been that
installing a black member would disrupt the order of a waiting
list that is estimated to be seven years long. But insiders say
that membership is based more on the preferences of the board of
directors than any chronological order. Factors like what part
of the country a candidate is from, his profession and, most of
all, how well liked he is by the selecting members, are crucial.
"It's like life," says one member. "The key question is, Will a
person fit in? Friends gravitate toward friends. That's who they
pick. That's the definition of a club."
Former Today show host Bryant Gumbel has played in the AT&T on
seven occasions and has been mentioned as someone who might
break the color line at Cypress. "I don't know who's been
proposed, who's been rejected or who's been passed over," he
says. "I do find it difficult to believe that any club, over all
these years, couldn't find anybody of color who was eligible for
membership if it wanted to. Would I be interested? Well, I'm not
over the 14-club limit yet. I've met some nice people at
Cypress. I don't want to appear as if I'm asking, but if someone
proposed the idea I would certainly consider it."
Cypress Point's stand has led to the gradual erosion of what had
been one of the top tournaments on the Tour. "The chance to play
Cypress was a major part of what got players to come here, and
I'm afraid losing that chance will diminish the quality of the
field and hurt the tournament," says Frank Chirkinian, the
former CBS producer. "I've voiced my opinions to my friends in
the membership many, many times, to find it in their hearts to
break down whatever barriers are restricting the usage of the
course. I've done it on a very personal basis because I don't
think there's an official way to do those things." Asked what
kind of response he has received, Chirkinian smiles ruefully.
"Just a nod," he says. "Nobody's going to make a statement. I
don't blame them. Nobody can commit."
That's the problem. No one, not even those in positions of
influence, seems willing to push too hard. "I'd vote to get the
tournament back," says Allen, but then he quickly adds, "but my
vote wouldn't count for very much."
Eastwood also equivocates in the kind of Cypress-speak that
would have drawn a sneer from Dirty Harry. "I can't tell the
membership what to do," he says. "I don't know whether they'd be
interested or not. But it would be anyone's preference to play
both Pebble Beach and Cypress. It would be my preference. Sure
Well, it's a start. As gorgeous as Cypress Point is when it's
just sitting there, consider what a beauty it would be if the
world's best players, particularly a certain young person of
color, were allowed to take its measure.