Sam Bowie applies to be first black member at Idle Hour

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 20, 2009 

Former University of Kentucky men's basketball player Sam Bowie said Thursday that he has applied for membership in Lexington's Idle Hour Country Club, which has never had an African-American member.

Bowie said that he approached Idle Hour, not the other way around, and that he expects to hear whether he has been accepted within the next week.

In the past, Idle Hour has been criticized for having no black members.

"No one had contacted us as far as the country club was concerned, trying to get the barrier broken," Bowie said in an interview Thursday.

Bowie said he expects critics to say he is a "token" member who was accepted "to end the criticism." But that is not the case, he said.

He approached the country club for membership because his family has many friends there and he is an avid golfer, lives 3 miles away and can afford it, he said. The former NBA player, who retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 1995, estimated initiation fees to be about $55,000.

Idle Hour has long been viewed as a vestige of segregation in Lexington. In 1999, the state Human Rights Commission began investigating Idle Hour because it had no black members. The commission dropped the case last year because it could not find a plaintiff who would assert that membership had been denied because of race, Morgan Ransdell, an attorney with the commission said previously.

Idle Hour officials said in 2006 that they were willing to have African-American members but that none had applied.

In 1993, Bowie became the first black member of Lexington Country Club on Paris Pike, where UK basketball coach John Calipari became a member after moving to Lexington this year. Bowie said he is keeping his memberships at Lexington Country Club and Greenbrier Golf and Country Club off Winchester Road.

The 48-year-old Bowie said he hopes that Calipari, who lives one block from Idle Hour on Richmond Road and who is a friend and fellow golfer, will join, too. Bowie told Calipari about his application this summer, Bowie said, but he hasn't talked to the UK coach recently to see whether he applied or will do so.

As part of Calipari's contract, the UK Athletic Association is paying a $30,000 initiation fee and about $516 a month for the coach's membership at Lexington Country Club.

UK men's basketball spokesman DeWayne Peevy said Thursday that he doesn't know whether Calipari is seeking membership at Idle Hour.

"We have already paid for the one membership per Coach Calipari's contract," Peevy said. "Any additional memberships would not go through us, so we would have no record of those."

William T. Young Jr., who is a board member at Idle Hour, confirmed Thursday that Bowie had applied but said he had no other details.

Bowie has yet to come across anyone who expressed "racism, bigotry, hatred or any of those characteristics" at any of the three country clubs, he said.

"It's been nothing but love shown," he said. "I'm sure there might be some people who kind of kiss you on the cheek and wee-wee on your knee at the same time, but I think that's a small, small, very small percentage."

Bowie said he thinks minorities and many other Lexington residents don't apply at country clubs "because of the additional expenses."

Bowie said he thinks he is going through the same review process as any potential Idle Hour member, including interviews with board members, and is not getting special treatment because he is African-American.

But he said he knows there are people who will ask, "If it wasn't Sam Bowie, would he be accepted at Lexington Country Club ... or would he even be considered at Idle Hour?"

Bowie said his family is applying to the third club, not for "name recognition or to boast about the success that we've had financially," but "because we have a lot of friends and associates at all the clubs."

"I come from a poverty-stricken background — government cheese, food stamps. I come from a divorced family, and I've been blessed to play professionally and be compensated accordingly. We've been blessed, and our family appreciates our situation," Bowie said.

"Being a person of color, I've never been fearful of being turned down. We are givers to the community. We've raised our children to respect and get respect. Financially, we can afford the situation," he said.

"I just hope Coach Cal comes behind me and this is the beginning of ... beating a stigma and reputation that whites and blacks are two different people," Bowie said.

"What a big, big asset he is for our community, and he would be a huge asset for Idle Hour," he said of Calipari.

Laughing, Bowie joked about the country club's fees and dues.

"Maybe he can help me pay for my monthly dues by a little wager on the side on the golf course."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3409.