Augusta National is so exclusive that they denied membership to Bill Gates. Being rich is only one of the components for membership at the club that hosts The Masters, the nation’s most prestigious golf tournament annually.
Besides being wealthy, you must have a waist size as large as Tiger Woods’ opening round score, hunt wild turkeys, and refer to your father as “my daddy,” in a thick southern drawl.
Now the National Council on Women’s Organizations (NCWO) is pressuring Augusta National to admit a woman into their membership before the Masters is held next year. You will see Phil Mickleson win a major before that happens.
The club which is referred to by many as the most serene, picturesque 18 holes of golf in the nation, was founded in 1933 and is exclusive to males.
Augusta is so rich on tradition that each year the winner of the Masters is allowed to own the celebratory green jacket for 365 days, and then is required to return it back to the club.
From that time forward, the winner can only wear the jacket at the champion’s dinner at the beginning of each Masters and is not allowed to take it off the premise.
When NCWO chairman Martha Burk issued a statement to Augusta demanding that a woman be allowed into their club, they received a terse three sentence reply.
“We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated.” Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson said. “We do not intend to be a trophy in their display case. There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable is up to us as we will not make any decision at the point of a bayonet.”
One may take a quick glance at that comment and regard Johnson as a standoffish, chauvinistic, elitist for not letting women into his club.
Look a little closer, however and you will find a humble, generous person who supports many causes, but does not enjoy hastily making decisions under intense media scrutiny.
Although Augusta National was excoriated for not accepting an African-American until 1990, Johnson meanwhile supported civil rights movements behind the scenes.
He helped blacks get elected to the Georgia State Legislature, ran a committee that desegregated the state of South Carolina’s public colleges, and has appointed women and blacks to the board of directors at Bankers Trust, the bank he successfully inherited from his father.
Private golf clubs like Augusta have the right to choose their own members. They are not receiving any funding from the government, as courses like Bethpage Black do.
Organizations like the girl scouts are allowed to choose their own members, and turn away others. If a slick eleven year old boy wanted to sell girl scout cookies, would the nation respond with cries of discrimination if that private organization denied his membership? Women pushed for years to be admitted to the Citadel, and then three days after the first woman was accepted, she quit.
It is not as if women are barred from playing golf on Augusta’s hollowed greens. Last year women played over 1,000 rounds of golf at Augusta National.
Last month after the South Carolina women’s golf team was invited to play 18 holes at Augusta, coach Kristi Coggins praised the treatment her team received by saying, “It was incredible. From the time we drove through the gates we were treated like Queens.”
Even Nancy Lopez, perhaps the most accomplished women’s golfer of all-time believes that Augusta National is not discriminating against women.
“I don’t feel women have to go join Augusta, because it’s really not a man-woman issue,” she said. “It’s just understood, I don’t feel like there’s discrimination there.”
Augusta National will probably one day accept women into their membership. Hootie Johnson seems like a fair ambassador of human rights who is willing to accommodate social change.
However, the NCWO does not have the right to determine privilege to choose whomever they want to belong in their membership. “I think it (women’s membership) is inevitable, if anything I think this controversy has delayed it,” member Leevy Johnson said. “In my opinion, Hootie was already trying to do it on the inside.”
Rybaltowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.