Changing course: Golf club owners focus on diversity, inclusion

Thomas A. Barstow, contributing writer//April 16, 2019

Changing course: Golf club owners focus on diversity, inclusion

Thomas A. Barstow, contributing writer//April 16, 2019

After her experience on a York County golf course made national headlines, Sandra Thompson and her golfing partners were asked to attend a meeting of golf-course owners where issues of racial sensitivity were discussed.

Thompson said the meeting allowed the women to share the experience with the owners’ group, with the hope of avoiding similar incidents.

Police were called on Thompson and four other women last April after they were said to have been golfing too slowly at Grandview Golf Course in Dover Township, York County. The women said they felt they were being discriminated against because they were the only African Americans on the course, according to reports at the time.

Thompson complimented Greg Acri, president of the PA Golf Course Owners Association, for making the discussion part of the group’s agenda.

Acri, who also serves on a regional golf alliance, said the meeting ended up being “a two-and-a-half-hour discussion on diversity and inclusion.”

“I think we opened the eyes of a lot of operators in terms of what can go wrong,” Acri said.

Besides, he added, all courses need as much business as possible, especially after heavy rains last summer.

“No one is going to turn away business, ever,” Acri said, so owners need to be able to navigate the changing demographics of the game.

Golf is a sport with deep traditions that includes rules for making sure players maintain an adequate pace, according to several experts. It’s not usual for players to be told to speed up, and those conversations often turn tense because of the intensity of the game, they said, speaking on background and without specifically referring to the Grandview incident.

Golf foursomes are a tradition partly so players don’t spend too much time on any one hole, which means a fifth player could make that situation more difficult, they added. If one group falls behind, it could affect everyone playing on the holes behind them, in a sort of domino effect, they said. Grandview’s operators maintain that they were merely trying to speed up the play of the five players.

Golf, like some other traditional sports, is having trouble luring new players, so the sport is having to adapt, Acri and others said.

“The game is changing,” Acri said. “Some courses are now starting to allow music in golf carts, which used to be unheard of.”

The balance is making sure not to alienate long-time customers who still will require the peace and silence that first lured them to the game, he added “But now anything goes, to an extent.”

If any misunderstandings result, they must be handled without an escalation, which means all owners should consider expanded training of course personnel, he added.

‘Golf is for everyone’

In a letter to the commission dated June 20, Grandview’s attorney said the course wants to promote harmony and had “hired a business consultant” who would offer “inclusive education as a means of enhancing customer service to members and guests.”

From left, Myneca Ojo, Sandra Harrison, Karen Crosby, Carolyn Dow and Sandra Thompson listen to testimony at a hearing held in York last summer by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The five women felt they had been discriminated against last spring at a York County golf course. (File photo)

The letter was sent as part of a notification that Grandview representatives would not attend a hearing in June held by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission hearing. Chad Lassiter, the commission’s executive director, said in late March that he was disappointed by that decision because his goal is to remain objective and to give a full report after listening to all sides.

The commission nevertheless accepted the letter, he said, adding that he also was pleased that the golf course owners’ group had invited the women to its meeting last fall to discuss the issues.

Grandview’s letter also noted that a course representative had apologized to the women.

An effort to reach the owners of Grandview — one of whom is former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister — was unsuccessful.

But in an interview with the York Daily Record at the end of March, Chronister, who intends to seek a new seat as a county commissioner, said the incident has been difficult for most people to talk about.

“I think it has been blown out of proportion,” he said in a video posted at ydr.com. He added that his only regret was that it “could have been handled a little differently” but that at the time calling in the police to mediate was the right decision.

One of the women, Karen Crosby, also is running to be a York County commissioner.

Grandview’s attorney, Lisa W. Basial of the York-based Benn Law Firm, said she has not received any updates from the human relations commission. And she would not comment on what the business consultant had concluded or provided as a way of training.

She added that the complaint involves a part of the discrimination code under which only two other incidents have been cited in 30 years. Both of those — one involving a school district and the other a police department — centered on systemic discrimination over a long period of time and were not comparable to Grandview, she said.

Lassiter said last year that the commission’s goal — as well as the goal of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which also is monitoring the case — is to find a resolution short of further court action.

Acri said he hopes the lessons already learned will help guide all golf lovers. For one, he said, golf course owners and managers need to do a better job of knowing who frequents their courses, because repeat customers are easier to retain than new golfers.

“I think the takeaway is that golf is for everyone,” Acri said. “And if you want to make money, you have to include everyone.” <

Report expected soon

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has yet to release a report on a complaint filed nearly a year ago by five minority golfers who claimed they were unfairly treated because of their race.

Chad Lassiter, the commission’s executive director, said in late March that the commission doesn’t have a deadline, adding that there is no particular reason why the report wasn’t finished within the initial 60-day timeframe after a hearing held in June. He said the commission wants to ensure that the public knows that the case was handled carefully.

“We want to bring closure to this as soon as possible,” Lassiter said.

The five women, who are all in their 50s, were playing a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club on April 21 when they were asked to pick up the speed of their play, according to reports at the time and since. The women said they felt they were being discriminated against because they were the only African Americans on the York County course, reports also showed.

Eventually, the police were called, but they reportedly didn’t interact with the five women. However, video later released on social media showed a tense interaction between the women and course officials, garnering national attention.

Sandra Thompson, a lawyer who is the head of the York County NAACP, was one of the players. A Democrat who is running for judge in the May election for York County Court of Common Pleas, Thompson said she is eager to have a final report.