Originally created 09/08/02

What writers are saying about the Augusta National



This issue smacks of grandstanding. It's the kind of thing that makes it difficult to take social critics seriously even when they have something worthwhile to say.

The mess hit a new crescendo when Augusta announced the Masters would be sponsor-free next year. The rationale: The National Council of Women's Organizations will not be able to boycott sponsors who do not exist.

This means no commercials during the CBS broadcast. It also means less revenue for Augusta, which could cut down on the amount of money the club donates to charities. The club distributed $3.3-million this year.

Is Augusta taking itself too seriously? Yes.

Is the women's group using a bulldozer to knock down a picket fence? Yes.

Do both sides look silly? Absolutely.

I almost believe the folks at Augusta are happy to have the fight. The whole purpose of their club is to exclude people. This is what they do.

I'm not even sure they are practicing sexism. I think it's closer to elitism. They want to prove they can keep people out.

Some day, a woman will be asked to join Augusta National. To me, that is when it becomes an issue worth noticing.

I hope there is fanfare. I hope there is preening. I hope Hootie stands up and announces the decision with a grand flourish.

And I hope she turns them down.

-John Romano,

St. Petersburg Times

Sure, women members would be nice, and maybe someday they will exist. Women are allowed to play Augusta, as spouses and guests, and anybody with a ticket is allowed on the grounds for The Masters. But this is not the public school system we're talking about here. It's not the workplace or the lunch counter. It is a private club, entitled to keep a membership as it sees fit, that runs The Masters so meticulously that it has become the envy of every other tournament in the world. It has been so successful that it can easily afford to bankroll its production without sponsors, even after giving millions to charity the way it does every year.

-Michael Lewis,

Salt Lake Tribune

Augusta National is a private club that pushes itself into the spotlight once a year. The moment the club first presented the Masters in 1934, it became, in a sense, public property. The moment Augusta decided to sell you something - a prestigious golf tournament - it lost the privilege of doing whatever it wanted.

The Masters answers to something bigger than itself. It has obligations to whatever is considered acceptable in society, not to what was acceptable in the past, as comforting as buggy whips and hoop skirts might be.

Perhaps you've heard this argument: I, John Q. Golfer, don't have the money to get into a country club, and you don't hear me griping. Aren't I being discriminated against?

No, Balata breath.

Only a small percentage of people can afford Lord & Taylor's clothes, but that doesn't mean the store is practicing discrimination. But it would be discriminatory if Lord & Taylor refused to sell to Hispanics with cash to spend. Augusta is doing something similar.

-Rick Morrissey,

Chicago Tribune

There is no easier target for politically correct ridicule than Augusta National, where rich, (mostly) white guys supposedly sit around playing poker with Confederate money while women folk fetch their slippers.

That caricature made a nice political football for NCWO because it's always easier to demagogue and inflame than deal with facts and nuance.

The Masters chairman is William "Hootie" Johnson. Insert name joke here.

Burk had said she couldn't take a man named "Hootie" seriously. This particular Hootie helped lead the desegregation fight in South Carolina's educational system.

Like many Southern institutions, Augusta will never live down its racial legacy. But the membership color line was broken 12 years ago. Masters galleries have more minorities than most tournaments.

You never hear them complain about feeling less than welcome, which is more than can be said of many sports events. That doesn't make it Panacea, but it's far from a Taliban hangout.

Burk hasn't played the race card, but she showed a condescendingly shallow grasp of the situation by saying the Masters could just move from Augusta. Then came usual buzzwords:

"Intolerant." That means if you disagree, you are ignorant, or even a bigot.

"Discriminate." Augusta also discriminates against poor sportswriters, but you don't see me boycotting Coke.

"Moral imperative." Has anyone ever watched Phil Mickelson tee off and said, "I can't take it anymore. Augusta discriminates against half the world's population!"

NCWO wants the symbolic victory. As if that will inspire oppressed Saudi wives to wear green jackets, much less aid battered women or any of the 1,000 better causes on NCWO's plate.

Burk said the Masters can't last long without commercials. Don't bet on it.

Augusta's glacial mindset makes it one of sports' most popular events. It barely allowed commercials before this. There are no corporate tents and no off-site merchandising. But it still makes an undisclosed ton of money. The NCWO is now talking about protesting at Augusta. If CBS bows to pressure, other networks will be lining up at the gate.

-David Whitley,

The Orlando Sentinel

In the 21st century, mere golf club membership shouldn't be an issue at all, let alone one that is smoldering and on the verge of erupting into a conflagration.

That it is, however, is not the fault of the National Council of Women's Organizations' leadership, which revived the issue in the face of chauvinistic criticism that women should find a better tree to bark up. I trust women can decide on their own what is important to them, like trying to chop down what Hootie Johnson has turned into a national symbol of sex discrimination, the home of golf's Super Bowl.

Yes, this mess is the fault of what is wrongheaded obstinacy on the part of Johnson and his backroom blowhards, most of whom - save U.S. Olympic Committee chief Lloyd Ward, one of the few black members - have lent their support, tacitly.

All NCWO boss Martha Burk did was pen a private letter to Johnson a few months ago seeking a dialogue on her groups' concern about Augusta's membership. Johnson responded by spitting at Burk's feet.

He issued a long and terse public statement that was nothing less than a declaration of war. He would not be converted, he announced, "at the point of a bayonet."

-Kevin B. Blackistone,

The Dallas Morning News

Going without commercials next year isn't expected to have a major impact on Augusta National. The Masters never has been about money for the club, which has extremely deep pockets.

The tournament keeps ticket prices ($125 for the week) and concessions comparatively low for such a major sporting event. The club never has put The Masters up for bid among the networks. CBS is the longtime rights holder.

To compensate CBS for its loss of advertising, Augusta National is expected to waive the rights fee for the 2003 tournament. Because of the limited commercial time, the Masters never has been a huge moneymaker for CBS. It is, however, a trophy event because of its exposure and prestige.

-Ed Sherman,

Chicago Tribune

Should Augusta National have a woman member? In an egalitarian world, yes. It is the 21st century, in case membership has failed to check its Farmer's Almanac. And the spread of diversity, in a newsroom, classroom or boardroom, has never hurt life experience. Usually, it enriches. Moreover, as a fellow journalist pointed out, in the ledgers of social history, intolerance has never fared too well. Some have said that including an inevitably rich and well-connected woman to an already rich and well-connected membership is not worth debating, pointing out this is not about Rosa Parks trying to sit in the front of a bus. True enough. But symbols are important. Augusta National invites the world to its club and its famous tournament every year. The idea that a daughter of mine would never have the chance to join the club that hosts it is, frankly, a tad irksome.

All that said, consider the issue. Voting rights and domestic partners' health benefits are issues of considerable weight. But is this? There exists underneath NCWO's battle cry a hint of forced morality that feels dangerous.

America has taken on a homogenous tone of late, the undercurrent being: If you don't think the way I think, I will browbeat you until you do. Force- feeding social ethics is a risky business. The great golf writer Bob Verdi wrote that if a private club can't choose its own members - old, young, male, female - then where can you go to get away from everybody? Precisely.

-Brian Murphy,

San Francisco Chronicle