I’ve been covering the Masters since 1979. I was there when Fuzzy Zoeller made that putt on 11 to win the Green Jacket and I’ve been there to see Tiger Woods begin his historic run. And I was there when they had those little brass plates on the wall that said “Gentlemen Only” designating card rooms, smoking rooms and the locker room where men might gather and act in a manner that might offend some women. Those brass plates quietly disappeared about 10 years ago.
I’ve seen so much change at Augusta National that you’d barely recognize the place as the same spot I visited 25 years ago. Despite it’s history and tradition, just about everything at Augusta National is evaluated ever year by the membership, and even the golf course has undergone some subtle and not so subtle changes over the years. It might appear staid and conservative from the outside, but inside the gates, they’re always looking for a way to do things better.
There’s usually a lot of fanfare associated with any change at Augusta. Fanfare from the outside that is, because the membership doesn’t talk about any of the changes. In fact, the membership is pretty much asked not to talk about anything, leaving the public pronouncements to the chairman. People made a big deal about it when the PGA Tour players were allowed to bring their own caddies, and when Augusta admitted it’s first non-white member. And now, Martha Burk, the head of the women’s coalition, is making a big deal about there being no women members at Augusta. Her point is that the Masters is a public entity, and therefore women should be admitted.
I’ve never understood why people would want to shoehorn themselves into places just to say they were there. I don’t want to go to any parties I’m not invited to, and I don’t want to join any clubs where they don’t want me as a member. But Martha Burk wants a female member at Augusta, saying it’ll advance women’s causes and women’s rights everywhere.
Before all of this became public last summer, Augusta National was in the process of inviting women to be members. It probably would have happened as early as 2003. But now, William “Hootie” Johnson, the chairman at Augusta National, says it “definitely” won’t happen before this year’s tournament in April. Johnson says Augusta will invite woman members on their own timetable.
The membership of Augusta National is just that, a national membership. Many of the 300 members represent the top corporations in America, and the membership is spread out all over the country. While Johnson’s public stance has been heavy handed, he’s right: Augusta National is a private club and can invite anybody it wants to be a member.
The club produced results from a poll yesterday showing that more than 70% of Americans agree that a private club should be allowed to determine the makeup of its own membership. Burk calls the poll “amateurish.” The whole thing has been ugly with charges and rebuttals, threats and reactions. But Burk is way over the top. Her current threat to have protests and boycotts at the Masters this year sound like a yapping dog at the gate.
Women are patrons at the Masters every year. They make up a large portion of people watching the tournament. More than 1000 rounds were played by women at Augusta National last year. Despite her protestations, the club and the tournament are two different things. I’ve been to plenty of fraternity parties where women were present, and they were welcome and having a good time. But as far as I know, none of them demanded to join afterwards. Times change, people change, organizations change. And they removed those little brass plaques a long time ago.