The things the popular press does not know about the Augusta National Golf Club would fill a good-sized book. Let's start with only the most recent, Secretary of the Treasury designate John Snow's resignation of his membership from the club. Here's the mainstream, generally liberal, spin on that resignation, from a December 10 USA Today editorial:
"As a private club, Augusta can be as pigheaded as it wants. But that doesn't erase or excuse its shameful bias (against having women as members). Snow wasn't sensitive enough as a corporate chief to take a stand against it. But he was smooth enough in his new role to recognize an important truth. Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right."
And here's the conservative reaction, from a New York Post editorial the day before:
"The club's men-only policy has made it a prime [New York] Times target -- and Snow could expect a lot of grief from Democrats and other Times' acolytes during his confirmation hearings. If he's so reluctant to risk offending the Gray Lady on these grounds, whatever will happen when serious business is under discussion? It's a cause for concern."
What both these newspapers miss is that the Augusta National Golf Club has been created in the honor and image of revered amateur golfer Bobby Jones, as a home for American gentlemen, and as a shrine to golf. The club has always tried to be the most wonderful place on earth for a certain kind of man, and it has succeeded. You can't buy your way in, or lobby your way in, or elbow your way in. You can only be invited. The members honor by emulation the refined example of Bob Jones's life, as a sporting champion and as an exemplary man who suffered most of his life, without complaint, from an excruciating, crippling disease. Bob Jones stood for something, something only dimly understood any more. The club still stands for that.
Indeed, the Masters itself is an invitational tournament, unlike any of the other three "major" golf tournaments throughout the year.
The National Review's Jay Nordlinger, writing only semi-facetiously in NR's "The Corner" on December 10, got closest to the truth: "Anyone who would give up a membership in Augusta National to be Treasury secretary is absurd. In fact, anyone who would do so is too misguided to hold high public office."
John Snow did not resign his Augusta National Golf Club membership to spare himself grief in the confirmation process, or to indicate agreement with the obsessive editorial stand of the New York Times about the club's not having women members. He resigned to spare the club any difficulties his new job might have caused. The club came first. That's why he resigned so promptly.
Keep this always in mind: The club is better than anyplace else. The club is more polite, more refined, more educated, more enlightened, than any vulgar newspaper or political organization or television network. The club does not need money, does not need anyone's approval, does not worry about pop culture or intellectual fashions.
It is quite literally untouchable.
Here's how untouchable the Augusta National Golf Club is, in contemporary terms. When the whole Martha Burk brouhaha blew up, the club canceled commercials on its upcoming 2003 Masters broadcast on the CBS television network. As reported, this was widely interpreted as the Augusta giving up advertising revenue in order to spare sponsors any difficulties.
Not so. The club didn't give up anything. They compelled CBS -- without a by-your-leave -- to give up CBS's advertising revenue. CBS sells the ad spots -- not Augusta.
How can the club do that? For some 40 years, CBS has been broadcasting the Masters, and has had to buy the rights to do so, at the club's insistence, one year at a time. Augusta has set that fee ridiculously low -- now in the $5-6 million range, when it's probably worth four times that much. That gives the club virtually complete control over CBS, which gets the immense prestige and power of delivering the Masters broadcast, and would die rather than give it up.
N.B. Michael Bamberger, writing in the November issue of Golf Magazine, said -- without any source -- that "it is likely" that Augusta National would forego its CBS broadcast fee and pay for the TV show. Writing a month later in the same magazine, John Feinstein mentioned no such thing. I don't believe it.
So what else could Augusta National do, if the New York Times persists in its silly obsession to use public pressure to compel the club to admit women -- and, more to the point, if the club decided that the Times's crusade might in some way damage the club's atmosphere or its members' comfort?
Let's see. They could hold the tournament in private, pretty much the way it started back in 1934. The club has a waiting list of ticket-holders a mile long; the same 30,000 or so patrons would show up who always show up to eat pimento cheese sandwiches and drink soft drinks from the Augusta National's signature green paper cups.
They could choose not to invite the press. If they wanted to, they could make their own film of the tournament (they always do) and then just release the film after the event.
They could, in short, do anything they wanted to. The Augusta National Golf Club, most delightfully, can flip the bird to the entire culture if it so chooses.
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