Apr 142003
Authors: Ashley Wheeland

Sports and politics: the best of two worlds for many people out there. The Augusta National Golf Tournament has had both in its wait for the rain to stop and the balls to start flying.

Almost a year ago Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (made up of 169 women’s groups) saw that one of the most prestigious tournaments in golf was held at one of the most exclusive (by this I mean no women allowed) clubs in the country, Augusta National. She decided to write a private letter to the club to protest the exclusion of women. The icy response, “We will not be bullied, threatened, or intimidated. We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case. There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet,” came from the master’s chairman at Augusta National, Hootie Johnson.

With the response Burk opened the correspondence up to the public. She also promised to attend the Masters with protest sign in hand.

Many people see this issue as unimportant. Who cares if women are allowed into Augusta? After all, the club is private, and it is the members through their board (with Hootie at the head) who decide the rules.

The problem is that the club does not see a problem with its policies. Only in the last few years have many clubs began to allow people of different races on their greens. But for Augusta the determinant is still whether you are a man or woman.

There have been members who have objected to Augusta’s women prohibition. Thomas Wyman, a former CBS executive and member of Augusta for more than 25 years, had spent time corresponding with the Augusta Board and Hootie Johnson about changing policies to allow women on the green. Wyman resigned from the club in November of 2002 because of the unwavering stance taken by Johnson. Wyman died a few months later in surgery, never seeing the current controversy.

It seems silly to me to have clubs that discriminate against women. It also seems silly to me that many men still remain members of the club, when they have raised daughters who themselves have broken many of the same barriers that remain at Augusta. Augusta National itself has hosted many women’s groups and women have golfed hundreds of holes on the course. Why would it hurt the club so much to become inclusive and open in its membership?

The tradition of clubs like Augusta is what maintains golf’s old boy stereotype. However, golfers that do not fit the traditional mold have broken down barriers and brought to light the discrimination that has been part of the sport of golf. Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam have broken down such walls. Sorenstam has been invited to play in the PGA Tour in May at the Colonial Tournament in Fort Worth.

This raises many questions about the divisions in sports between men and women. Can they compete against one another? Can the competition be about sport, rather than gender? The idea that women have as much right to join a club, have as much right to compete in a sport where they have proven themselves, is laughed at by many men.

“Can you imagine? A women playing against a man?” Sounds a lot like statements made 80 years ago when men could not imagine women being able to get an education, compete with men for jobs and vote.

Augusta National is a private club. According to the courts and the constitution it can decide on its membership base. I just question any organization (and its members) that does not see the necessity of equality and inclusively in its charter. I also question a society that is not able to accept women as par to men, in sport and in the mind. While many see this as trivial while our country is invading another, I see it as key to understanding the American mindset.

Even in America there are discriminations that have been traditionally inscribed have not been completely pulled out of the closet. We have much to do ourselves in changing our culture to one that is dynamic and inclusive. Let’s just hope our brothers and our sons can do more than our father’s at Augusta at reaching for and discovering this.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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