Admittedly dredging up the gender controversy from Master’s week at this time is a bit disingenuous on my part because I felt it was largely a non-story, driven by a non-cause benefitting a non-recipient. Then again, when the White House weighed in on the issue, it was more difficult to ignore. So having allowed the real story of the Masters to have played out with Bubba’s closing “sky hook,” a few thoughts and clarifications.
Since issues of race and gender arose with Shoal Creek years ago, I think everyone connected with the game has wished those issues would be resolved with a more inclusive environment. It’s a game that is available to all sizes, shapes and colors. Having grown to admire and love what the Masters is in sports, I have always thought the gender issue needed to be favorably resolved and stored on the shelf.
What initially needs to be known is the facts, or believed to be facts, about Augusta National, and this issue. First, the only person who speaks for the club is the chairman, Billy Payne. Second, it is a private club entitled to set its own rules and policies, and we can argue the one-week extravaganza changes that but it doesn’t. Third, anything you hear or read about the club is educated guesswork, including my own words.
Regrettably, there are private golf clubs in this country that have rules in place restricting membership. Some of those clubs are so closed that they don’t even allow people outside their rules (women) on their grounds. Burning Tree, in our nation’s capital, is populated by politicians who legislate equitable treatment for everyone except inside their club’s gates.
This is not true of Augusta. Women play golf at Augusta regularly. At this time they are wives, or daughters or granddaughters or invited guests. They are not members.
If you trust people familiar with the club, they will tell you there is no written policy against women. It might sound a little ‘Clintonese’ to say, but they don’t exclude women. They just have yet included any. I will also suggest that an informal eyeball survey of green jackets on tournament days didn’t turn up any Hispanic or Asian Americans, but they too have played at the club.
With Billy Payne in charge, you have a chairman who has implemented more changes than any since Clifford Roberts. He has brought the club, and the Masters forward, in so many ways. His reputation, even before he became chairman, is that of being a great orchestrator who brings all elements into tune. That reputation has always suggested that he cares enough about the image of the club to want a satisfactory resolution of the gender question.
As chairman, however, his members expect him to act, not react. It is difficult to imagine what pressure is great enough to force this club to doing anything they don’t want to do on someone else’s timetable. The late Horde Hardin once told me that the first thing you need to know about Augusta National is that it is a private club, not the Masters. People in Augusta will tell you that they believe if there had never been a Martha Burke, there would already be a woman on the membership roles at Augusta National. They will also tell you that every time someone tries to force the club into action they delay the process even more.
The recent controversy involving the CEO of IBM was not very well reported from what I was reading. Ginni Rometty was said to have applied for membership at the club, like the three previous IBM CEO’s before her. No one “applies” for membership at the Augusta. They are invited. We have had a succession of Presidents who loved and played the game but only one, Dwight Eisenhower, was invited to join the club. Rumor has it that Bill Gates let it be known that he would welcome an invitation to join Augusta but was left waiting a while before the invitation reached him.
Additionally, the notion that being the CEO of a corporate sponsor of the Masters tournament is an automatic ticket to a green jacket is not supported by the facts. What may have been true for the IBM CEO’s has not been necessarily true for the General Motors CEO’s, and Cadillac had long been on board with the tournament. You can’t choose which dots to connect and which dots to ignore.
Perhaps most troubling to me in this controversy is the rational behind the whole campaign. Who benefits? How will the world change once the gates to Magnolia Lane are opened to women drivers? Is positioning a rich and successful female CEO in the company of other rich and successful male CEO’s going to make one additional female’s life better? This isn’t Selma or Jackie Robinson. This isn’t suffragettes. Are there little girls around the country wishing that when they grow up they could wear a green jacket, too?
When the press took to beating up Chairman Payne at his Masters week press conference over this single issue, one writer asked “What should I tell my granddaughters about women not being allowed to be members at Augusta National?” Payne should have replied, “If that’s the biggest worry your granddaughters face in life, they are very fortunate.” Instead he replied, “I’m sorry but I don’t know your granddaughters.”
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX Radio in St. Louis. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.