Just when you thought the Masters Tournament couldn't get any less commercial.
In a climate where dozens of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour golf tournaments are on the brink of collapse due to lack of corporate sponsorship, the least corporate sports event in the world elected to go it alone.
The Augusta National Golf Club, isolating itself in its battle for private rights, an-nounced Friday that it has eliminated all commercializa-tion for the 2003 Masters Tour-nament to insulate its limited sponsors from being attacked by women's groups.
The barely noticeable four minutes of commercials per hour have been reduced to zero. You can almost hear Jim Nantz now, whispering wist-fully over the piano music as the camera pans across the azaleas.
"Welcome to the 2003 Mast-ers Tournament, sponsored by the Masters Tournament and the fine folks at Augusta Na-tional Golf Club. A tradition unlike any other, the Masters on PBS."
A tournament already void of all corporate hospitality or logos has gone totally retro. The 2003 Masters could just as well reclaim its original name from 1934 - the Augusta Na-tional Invitation Tournament.
Club chairman Hootie John-son took the boldest step he could to remove the most visible leverage National Council of Women's Organiza-tions chairperson Martha Burk had to pressure Augusta Na-tional into inviting women as members.
Burk clearly has no idea who she's messing with. She once said the Masters and Augusta National weren't tied to the hip and suggested the tournament be played else-where. She also said in print that she found it hard to take anyone named Hootie serious-ly.
Hootie is very serious. Serious enough to stand alone on principle. When Burk took her campaign to Coca-Cola and IBM and Citigroup, Johnson simply took Coca-Cola and IBM and Citigroup out of the equation.
"Augusta National is the NCWO's true target," Johnson said. "It is therefore unfair to put the Masters media spon-sors in the position of having to deal with this pressure."
Johnson's gambit illustrates just how strongly Augusta National feels about its independence and just how strong the club is in general. No other organization in the world could go it alone in the modern economic climate.
Consider this week's news. The PGA Tour's Air Canada Championship being played this week near Vancouver, B.C., announced that it will disappear off the schedule after losing its sponsor. Numerous other tournaments are in jeopardy, including the event formerly known as the Worldcom Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., and the upcoming Buick Challenge at Callaway Gardens, Ga.
It's not just golf. The 64-year-old Blue-Gray all-star football game in Montgomery, Ala., a Christmas Day feature since 1978, will not be played this year because officials could not line up a corporate sponsor.
Maybe the Blue-Gray folks or the many troubled tournaments should give Coke a call. Their promotional department suddenly has a sizable chunk of free cash available.
The Masters and the club that operates it is beholden to no one. The tournament was started in 1934 to contribute to the game of golf and Johnson insists their commitment to that goal is as strong as ever.
So is his resolve. Augusta National will admit women as members when and if it chooses. If pushed hard enough, it might choose to stop hosting the tournament altogether and disappear out of the public eye the same way Cypress Point opted out of the limelight over private rights in 1990.
Until then, you can enjoy 12 1/2 hours of live coverage of the 2003 Masters commercial free, courtesy of Martha Burk.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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