Originally created 08/31/02

Masters will air ad-free



The telecast of the 2003 Masters Tournament will not include any commercials, Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Hootie Johnson said Friday.

The unprecedented move was in response to the National Council of Women's Organizations' campaign against television sponsors Citigroup, IBM and Coca-Cola, Mr. Johnson said. In June, the group asked Augusta National to reconsider its membership policies to include women.

"Augusta National is NCWO's true target," Mr. Johnson said in a prepared statement. "It is therefore unfair to put the Masters media sponsors in the position of having to deal with this pressure."

He added, "There may come a day when women will be invited to join our club, but that decision must be ours."

Martha Burk, the chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, did not return messages left on her cell phone.

The Masters telecast expanded last year to include full 18-hole coverage on Sunday. The telecast, which includes 12 1/2 hours of live programming, is traditionally the highest-rated golf program and is well known for limiting commercials to four minutes per hour.

Sponsors took the news in stride.

"We had discussions with Augusta National officials, and they recently informed us of their decision to conduct the tournament without sponsors," said Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Deutsch. "We enjoyed our one-year sponsorship of the Masters, and we wish them well."

"We respect the club's decision to hold the Masters Tournament without sponsors next year," IBM spokeswoman Debra Gotthimer said.

CBS, which has broadcast the Masters every year since 1956, declined to comment, spokeswoman Robin Brendle said.

Ms. Burk wrote Mr. Johnson a letter in June urging the club "to review your policies and practices in this regard, and open your membership to women now, so that this is not an issue when the tournament is staged next year."

Mr. Johnson responded with a three-paragraph statement and said the club will not be "bullied" into admitting women as members.

Staff Writer Scott Michaux contributed to this article.

Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or jboyette@augustachronicle.com.