Sometimes when you read the things you’ve heard said, they look very different in print. Sometimes without the impact and subtleties and sometimes more harsh than intended. Hootie Johnson, Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters golf tournament has suffered from both cases for the past ten months. He’s been characterized as a Neanderthal and as a progressive. He’s been lauded and vilified for his comments regarding single-gender rights for private organizations. And each time, his comments, when read, seem well thought out.
Today in his annual question and answer session with the media at the Masters, Johnson reiterated the club’s policy on membership in an opening statement and said he wasn’t going to take any questions about that issue. Some of the assembled media worked their way around that, and others decided to ask anyway. Johnson relented after admonishing a reporter for lecturing him. His comments, in print, were well crafted as he cited the Girl Scouts, sewing circles and the Junior League as examples of women-only private organizations. But how he made those comments won’t win him any friends.
When asked about Tiger Woods’ comments saying he believes that there should be a woman member at Augusta, Johnson said “I won’t tell Tiger how to play golf if he doesn’t tell us how to run our private club.” Kind of a funny line if made in an off-hand manner, but from the podium of the pressroom at Augusta there wasn’t any humor in it. Johnson seems to be a paradox to many people. A father of four daughters and a champion in many cases against discrimination, he’s been whittled down to a small-minded man who is a brute by those who want to make this a right or wrong issue. His record for supporting so-called progressive causes in the state of South Carolina is well documented. He has fought against discrimination in very public ways. But he doesn’t see this issue as discrimination.
“Single gender is an important fabric on the American scene,” Johnson responded to a question today. “There are thousands and thousands all across America. Both genders. Health clubs, sewing circles, Junior League, Shriners and we should not and we’re not discriminating. And we resent it very much when that accusation is made against us.”
Johnson was asked about his daughters’ thoughts on the issue and he recounted a story about his wife’s recent birthday. ” . . . And my wife and the four daughters wanted to go to the lake place to celebrate her birthday. And they let me know that the really didn’t want me to come along with them. And they didn’t want their husbands to come along. We congregate there all the time, but they were going to do their thing. It’s just a natural thing. And I don’t know how to articulate that or how to explain it. But it’s just been going on for centuries and centuries that men like to get together with men every now and then and women like to get together with women every now and the. And that’s just a simple fact of life in America.”
Research seems to back Johnson up, as a vast majority of women don’t think the gender membership policy at Augusta is an issue. I’m with them. It’s not an issue. It’s a private club that can set their own rules. They give money to charity and strive to put on the best sporting event they can every year. I’ve always had a rule I follow: I don’t go to any parties I’m not invited to. Why try and shoehorn myself somewhere where they don’t know me or possibly they don’t want me to be there?