Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: What if Augusta National held a women's tournament?

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The LPGA is idle this week, as it is nearly half the weeks of the year.

Augusta National Golf Club closed to members last weekend, and will remain so until its October re-opening.

Just saying.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made a curious comment to Forbes magazine in its most recent issue when asked directly: “Should Augusta National admit female members?”

“As the commissioner of the LPGA, I think Augusta should have a women’s tournament,” Whan said. “I don’t care if they have female members.”

Whan went on to say that he believes the home of the Masters Tournament will eventually open its doors to female members and praised the club for its annual six-figure financial support of Girls Golf, a joint program between the LPGA and USGA that aims to attract young girls to the game. But it’s the idea of a women’s tournament on the iconic course that he reiterated.

“What’s frustrating is that the best players now on our tour can’t play [a tournament] there," Whan said. “I ask every year.”

Forbes didn’t follow up by asking what kind of answer Whan gets to his annual request, leaving that dialogue to our own imaginations. Mine tends to wander toward the possibilities and the “what if?”

Eleven years ago – before most people had ever heard of Martha Burk and Ginni Rometty was still rising through the ranks at IBM – I wrote a column when the Augusta area was getting ready to stage a new LPGA event at Mount Vintage Plantation just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

“What women’s golf needs most is not a tournament near Augusta but a tournament at Augusta. What it needs is a Women’s Masters, if you will, at Augusta National Golf Club.”

Augusta, it should not be forgotten, was the home to one of the original women’s major championships – the Titleholders. Held 27 times from 1937 through 1966 at Augusta Country Club, it was far and away the premiere women’s golf event of the season that was as beloved as the Masters to those who competed in it. Ask anyone still around who played in it to tell tales of the annual “Fun Night” skits and the deep fondness for that event is obvious.

In fact, the winners of the Titleholders were presented their own green jackets in a tradition that pre-dated the now emblematic Masters ritual.

Augusta National holds the power to rekindle those traditions in a way that could impact the game of golf for women around the world.

Imagine pioneers and Hall of Famers Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth hitting the ceremonial first tee shots at the club across Rae’s Creek from where they won Titleholders.

Imagine prematurely retired icons Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa trying to rekindle the magic in Amen Corner.

Imagine Hall of Famers JoAnne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Betsy King, Amy Alcott, Beth Daniel, Juli Inkster and Hollis Stacy back inside the ropes competing with Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen and Lexi Thompson.

Imagine PGA champ Keegan Bradley showing up to caddie for his Hall of Fame aunt Pat Bradley in a ladies version of the Par-3 Contest.

These things would be priceless, and it would inspire female golfers around the world in the same way the Masters inspires young men to dream about playing amidst the roars through the Georgia pines.

It is obviously something the top women have dreamed about as well. A reporter in Mobile, Ala., asked players during an event in April what they thought about the idea of a women’s Masters at Augusta, and the comments were overwhelmingly positive.

“Are you kidding me?” said Creamer, who has played Augusta National twice. “Of course that would be something. That’s when we’d know we had really made it, if something like that happened.”

“Absolutely,” Brittany Lincicome said. “Obviously, I’ve been to (the Masters) before and I’ve walked around a little bit, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play it. Even just to get an invite to go play a practice round or to go and play that golf course would be amazing.’’

“It would be fun if we could play there, of course,” Maria Hjorth said. “It would be nice if we had something similar to that, a place to go back to every year, something that had that standard and that prestige.’’

“It would take a special venue, a special sponsor, just a special set of circumstances just to even come close to that,” Wendy Ward said. “I’ve never played it but I walked the back nine my rookie year and was just in awe. I thought, TV does this course no justice. The beauty, the azaleas, the whole Amen Corner and 15, 16 and 17. I’d love the opportunity to get to play there some time.’’

It’s obviously a lot to ask of one club that already spends enormous resources and energy in annually staging the best presented golf tournament the world has ever seen. To play host to the Masters and then turn around less than two months later and do the same for the women would be a monumental undertaking – especially considering the exacting standard under which Augusta operates.

But if any place in the world could do it, it would be Augusta National. This week is devoted to tee times granted to volunteers, vendors, employees and anyone else who assists in the presentation of the Masters, a gesture of thanks by the club that is treasured by those who receive it.

Would any of those folks mind if their tee times got postponed a week and the edges were a little more trampled by a new flock of patrons introduced to the course? Not at all. The course is no less majestic without the azaleas in bloom.

The waiting list for Masters badges could be cleared and a new one established by worldwide fans eager to get a glimpse of the place and see some of the world’s best challenging it. Television ratings would dwarf anything else in women’s golf (and most men’s events as well). A new line of merchandise sales would fund even more charities and grow-the-game projects. The local economy would get a third Christmas.

Is Whan’s dream too far-fetched? Was Atlanta playing host to the Centennial Olympics ridiculous when Billy Payne first articulated his vision? Payne’s dream then included both men and women playing golf for medals at Augusta National in 1996, and he said not getting that because of the club’s membership policies was one of his “biggest disappointments.”

Now it’s Payne who runs the club. It’s Payne who pledged to “inspire the next generation of golfers” with an amateur event in Asia and a Masters video game. It’s Payne who’s building a legacy of growth and modernization.

While golf’s overall growth has been relatively stagnant, the numbers of women participating has declined. Not surprisingly, interest in the LPGA Tour has waned to the point that only 15 events are now held in the United States and its television presence is minimal. The event at Mount Vintage only survived four years before going the same way of the old Titleholders. An event at Augusta would be a guaranteed success.

With women representing the largest growth potential in golf, a new major event at Augusta National might be just the catalyst to inspire it. It’s the kind of grand gesture that would transform the conversation about Augusta’s place in gender equity.

I’m not suggesting they should, just wondering “what if?”

Perhaps if Whan keeps asking and the LPGA players keep dreaming, a new tradition unlike any other might someday be born.

Comments (18) Add comment
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broad street narrow mind
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broad street narrow mind 05/22/12 - 04:45 pm
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good idea. too bad poor
Unpublished

good idea. too bad poor wendy ward said "back nine." she probably won't get invited.
it's ironic that the male head of the lpga wouldn't care about women members at the masters. oh no, wait. it's not ironic at all.

Retired Army
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Retired Army 05/22/12 - 05:07 pm
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Ladies Masters?

One has to wonder what a boon to the local economy a "Ladies Masters" would be.

To see the best of the LPGA tee it up at the finest golf course in the world. I'd pay good money to see that, or better yet volunteer to work the course for the week. I want to see what the delicate touch that many of these young ladies show in their short games can do with this tricky long range beast. What a treat that would be for golf fans around the world.

JohnBrownAug
1962
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JohnBrownAug 05/22/12 - 05:35 pm
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I brought this up about ten years ago

The consensus from people seriously involved with the National was and still is something like....Not in a million years.

broad street narrow mind
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broad street narrow mind 05/22/12 - 06:42 pm
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would it be called the
Unpublished

would it be called the missuses?

Jake
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Jake 05/22/12 - 07:24 pm
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Eeek, a mouse!

If this ever happened (doubt it), would they be allowed to use the champions locker room? I can hear it now as Tiger opens his locker, "OK, who is the wise guy who left this box of tampons in here?".

YeCats
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YeCats 05/22/12 - 07:41 pm
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"At my Country Club, ladies

"At my Country Club, ladies play our course only on Tuesday afternoon, after 3:30, if its raining." (Just joking :-)

Interesting article. Good pondering, Scott. As much as the National promotes the game of golf, around the world, the LPGA would make great theater there. While some here in the states would like to see USA players rule the tour, it is the foreign ladies that dominate the LPGA.

I would watch/ support it.

JohnBrownAug
1962
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JohnBrownAug 05/22/12 - 08:57 pm
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It just won’t work. Besides

It just won’t work. Besides the sacrosanct nature of the Masters, the members and the course being compromised the logistics simply won’t work. It’s not only the course that’s hallowed ground, the members and the tournament are too. Member playing time would be limited by another tournament. Keep in mind the National closes for the summer. The nice playing times are spring and early fall. Playing a tournament in the dead of winter wouldn’t work. I just don’t see it.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 05/22/12 - 09:09 pm
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JohnBrown, you wrote...

"The consensus from people seriously involved with the National was and still is something like....Not in a million years."
Not in a million years??? So, you're saying there's a chance, eh??? LOL!

Yeah, I don't understand why this subject keeps coming up from time to time. I guess it's "fun" to speculate, but I think the gentlemen at the Augusta National have let it be known (without coming out and actually saying it) that the Augusta National is THEIR course and they will do with it what they will....and that's okay. They make arrangements to invite the rest of us onto their grounds one week out of the year...and that's okay. It's their course, and their rules.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 05/22/12 - 11:58 pm
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JohnBrownAug wrote: "Member

JohnBrownAug wrote: "Member playing time would be limited by another tournament. Keep in mind the National closes for the summer. The nice playing times are spring and early fall. Playing a tournament in the dead of winter wouldn’t work."

You seem to have missed the point of the lede, which meant any second tournament would be held this week, after member play is done for the season. Members play right up through the Sunday before the Masters. They could play right up until the same last day of the season in May as always. It would only delay the offseason by a week, still leaving more than 4 full months to do whatever work needs doing to the course before the October re-opening. It would also coincide with the end of the school year (as the Masters does with spring break) creating a similar potential housing rental market.

Now logistics are another matter, which certainly makes the idea of hosting a second event a longshot at best. It's possibly unreasonable to execute. But how anyone outside the club could condemn the concept of having another great tournament attracting thousands of fans a day to Augusta confuses me. It wouldn't seem to hurt anyone.

faithson
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faithson 05/23/12 - 01:07 am
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good idea

just that the course would not take all that action at this time of year. best to move it over the river to Sage valley

etlinks
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etlinks 05/23/12 - 07:18 am
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wishful thinking

It would be an outstanding idea to have the LPGA at Augusta National and for that matter a Senior Tour event as well. Who knows?

JohnBrownAug
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JohnBrownAug 05/23/12 - 07:30 am
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Scott, I do understand the

Scott, I do understand the sentiment. However...there is such a protective spirit around the course, members and tournament that the slightest impingement on the heritage and mystique is not viewed kindly.

The Augusta National is associated with the Masters and that's it. The one time an exception was going to be granted was for the Olympics, but that didn't work out because of the greedy Atlanta politicians, some who went to jail.

I used to work with someone who was a member of the National and actually had this discussion with him years ago. Although this gentleman is certainly not poor, all members are not Bill Gates types. The National keeps its local connections with Augusta members.

Anyway, this gentleman kindly smiled at me and said I just didn't get it when I talked the economics of another tournament and so on. They are not one bit concerned about the money and already donate millions to Augusta. The whole thing is protecting the image of the tournament, course and rights of the members.

avidreader
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avidreader 05/23/12 - 07:31 am
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Dream Big

I admire people who dream big.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 05/23/12 - 07:54 am
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Senior PGA

It should be noted that the Senior PGA Championship was created at Augusta National and played there for two years (Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod were the winners and later became first two honorary starters).

It was obviously a very different era and different scope, but a second tournament there is not without precedent.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 05/23/12 - 08:05 am
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Qualifications?

Possible qualification criteria:

1) Past champions (eventually) - lifetime
2) Other major winners - 5 years
3) Select amateur champions
4) Top 16 from previous year's tournament
5) Winners of LPGA tournaments in preceding year
6) Top 50 in the Rolex rankings (end of previous season and 2 weeks prior)
7) Hall of Famers under the age of 60 (all other Hall of Famers would be non-competing invitees eligible to play practice rounds)
8) Special invitees (Americans included since they are a minority at top of women's game)

It could be cool.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 05/23/12 - 08:42 am
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It's better that the LPGA

It's better that the LPGA play in Asia, where all the players live.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 05/23/12 - 09:00 am
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National Bashing

Everyone is thinking that the National is the only possible provider. A more logical question is, “Why are the misers and curmudgeons at Augusta Country Club not stepping up to the plate and re-instating the Titleholder's championship tournament?”

There are more than one golf course in this here town.

1313
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1313 05/23/12 - 09:40 am
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Ladies tournament at the National

Well if they really don't want to do this the members can just say with the cost of buying up Berckman Road, the world class practice area, hospitality buildings etc., they just can't afford to move all the tees up 200 yards.

YeCats
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YeCats 05/23/12 - 09:47 am
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The AN does not need the

The AN does not need the LPGA.

The LPGA desperately needs interest in the USA. Just imagine the firestorm, do you think this tournament would be shown on espn2, etc? No, it would be proudly broadcast on network TV. And young girls, even it the states, could dream so much larger, than jumping in a lake after winning their major.

On the qualifying side, I would say do not include americans in the special invitation. Let them "smith barney" it. The HOFs would bring enough interest.
Also, if this was offered, would the LPGA accept it? I mean if the CEO of IBM isn't a member, would they balk? Me thinks they would be insane, if they did. The LPGA needs this prestige. Forget the economics, this stuff is most definitely higher thoughts, Scott.

stillamazed
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stillamazed 05/23/12 - 02:32 pm
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LPGA

As a woman, I could care less if women ever play at the Augusta National. Give the men there place and space! There are places where only women are allowed and I don't hear the men complaining. I don't understand why some keep pushing this issue. It is a private club and I for one hope they don't cave in to outside pressure and political correctness. If at some point they decide to allow women without outside pressure then great and if not of well......

JohnBrownAug
1962
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JohnBrownAug 05/23/12 - 06:00 pm
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The Power of Tradition

Understand it and the implications.

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