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Watson quits club, citing bias in denial of Bloch

DATE OF EVENT: Thursday, Nov. 29, 1990

DATE PUBLISHED: Friday, Nov. 30, 1990, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: Business and civic leader Henry Bloch, one of the founders and the chief executive of H&R Block Inc., was denied membership to the exclusive Kansas City Country Club in 1990. Believing that Bloch was rejected because he was Jewish, internationally known golfer Tom Watson resigned from the club in protest. His action would draw national attention, and Bloch would be offered, and would accept, an invitation less than a week later. Watson would rejoin the club in June 1995.



Professional golfer Tom Watson said Thursday he has resigned his membership at the Kansas City Country Club because businessman Henry Bloch, who is Jewish, was not admitted as a member.

L. Chandler Smith, president of the Kansas City Country Club’s board of directors, said he received Watson’s letter of resignation on Wednesday. The 400-member country club, located in Mission Hills, is considered to be one of the city’s most prestigious private clubs.

Smith wouldn’t comment on Watson’s resignation. He said Bloch’s application to the club was withdrawn by the “proposer” and never reached the board of directors.

Bloch, chairman and chief executive of H&R Block Inc., declined to comment. Bloch and his brother, Richard, co-founded the company, which is the nation’s largest tax preparation firm, and they are nationally known for their many civic endeavors.

“As a matter of conscience, I resigned from the club,” Watson said Thursday. “They put a prominent Jewish person up for membership and his application was withdrawn. It’s something that I personally can’t live with because my family is Jewish. It’s not something that’s very appealing to me: the possibility that I’m not welcome — that my family’s not welcome — because of (their) religion.”

Watson’s wife, Linda, and their two children are Jewish. He is not. Watson, 41, has been a longtime member of the Kansas City Country Club, the course where he learned the game and gained fame as one of golf’s all-time greats. …

Smith said Bloch’s religion was not a factor. He said the club has no discriminatory policies, but he acknowledged that the club has no Jewish members, as far as he knows. He also said the club has no black members. …

Bloch’s application never got out of the club’s membership committee, which makes recommendations to the board of directors, according to sources. …

Watson was not alone in his criticism of the club.

“It represents the thinking of the Mr. Bridge era,” said club member Cliff C. Jones Jr. …

Jones, president and chairman of Market Area Development Corp., said he won’t resign from the club but would continue to work to break down social barriers there. …

Leaders in the Jewish community decried the situation.

Rabbi Michael Zedek, of Temple B’nai Jehudah, said groups that try to deny themselves by excluding others are attempting to cling to the past. …

Watson said he did not know Bloch well.

“I have to admit that,” Watson said. “But as soon as I heard that (Bloch’s application) was withdrawn, I felt out of conscience that it was a religious issue and I can’t live with that. I feel more than uncomfortable. I think it’s wrong. It’s something that I consider very blatant action by the club, and I decided that that’s enough. It’s more than my conscience can bear.” …

Watson, however, said he still believes in the right of private clubs to determine their memberships.

“I still believe that,” he said. “But when they choose to discriminate against your beliefs, you don’t have to choose to be a member there.”

Watson told club head pro Stan Thirsk, his mentor, of his decision over lunch Monday.

“I can’t comment on it,” said Thirsk, who has been at the club for 30 years. “It pains me too much. Tom is like a son to me.” …

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