The Investor

Masters, Misters, Missus & Misses

Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations made a really stupid move trying to pressure Augusta National Golf Club into admitting women members.

By 9.6.02

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I admit to being out of step with The Prowler on "women's issues." I caught some flack for referring to a woman as a "spokesperson" a couple columns back. I have offered free legal and public relations advice to Martha Stewart, a political enemy to some who read these pages. I sometimes refer to Hillary Clinton as Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I don't even think her legs are that fat.

My liberal credentials now firmly in place, I can tell you that Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) made a really stupid move trying to pressure Augusta National Golf Club into admitting women members. In fact, if you hate the attention given to women's rights, Burk and NCWO are your comrades. If this is their main issue, women must be doing a lot better than those liberals think.

Dramatis Personae

Augusta National Golf Club -- Private golf club in Augusta, Georgia, host of The Masters golf tournament. The club is very secretive about its rules, revenues, and membership. The club is a very laid-back place. Most members drop by for the Masters and a Member-Member tournament or two. Membership and dues are nominal. Many members are worth nine figures. The members respect the club so much they would pay more to belong if the Masters stops making money. And they respect the tournament so much they would carry any losses necessary to maintain it.

Burk, Martha -- Chairperson, NCWO. Burk wrote William "Hootie" Johnson in June asking that Augusta National invite a woman as a member before hosting the 2003 Masters golf tournament. Following Johnson's negative and hostile response, she contacted the Sponsors (see below) and CBS (see below). Burk has proven much more effective at getting herself publicity for ridiculous causes (like whether Mike Tyson should be allowed to box in D.C., whether J.C. Penney should carry a basketball T-shirt saying, "Your game is as ugly as your girl," and whether the Sacajawea $1 coin should depict her holding her baby) than real issues (like whether women deserve equal pay).

CBS -- Network broadcasting the Masters. CBS has carried the tournament for forty-seven years, always on a one-year contract designed to give Augusta National control over the broadcast. CBS also pays below-market rates for the TV rights because the club insists on limiting commercials to four minutes per hour. CBS carries this tournament because it has always done so, because it lends prestige to its coverage of all golf (and all sports) events. Without sponsors, it could use the limited commercial time to promote its other programming. CBS will still pay to broadcast the tournament, even commercial free. And if it didn't, another network would step in.

Injustice, Real -- Should employers be required to make accommodations to working parents? We could argue about the cycle of poverty, putting small employers out of business, liability issues, tax hikes, and the role of the government in private business. But we would be arguing about something that had an outcome significantly affecting a lot of lives and involving a lot of money.

Injustice, Symbolic -- Seeing a black football player dodge some tackles and saying, "look at that little monkey go!" Even though Howard Cosell took courageous stands in favor of Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, and Muhammad Ali, and hardly anyone who heard Cosell thought to complain -- not even the player involved -- the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to make an issue of it, trying to make some point about getting more minorities hired by the network.

Johnson, William "Hootie" - Chairperson, Augusta National Golf Club. Johnson has generally been pro-civil rights during his business career, was on the board of the National Urban League, supported efforts to integrate South Carolina higher education during the Sixties, and expanded minority membership at Augusta. Reportedly, he wanted to invite a women to join the club but now can't because it will look like he was forced into it.

Masters, The -- The annual golf tournament hosted by Augusta National. Networks will make less money, or lose money, to televise it. Members and players will continue the tournament even without TV coverage, even if they have to pay for the privilege, rather than being paid.

PGA Tour -- The organization of touring professional golfers. The Tour will not hold events at clubs with exclusionary membership policies, but the Masters is not subject to the Tour's rules; the Augusta National Golf Club runs it. I'd love to see Burk ask the players to boycott the tournament. The players would respond with rhetoric that would make Hootie Johnson's talk of bayonets, trophy cases, and intimidation sound like a cooing baby. No group of athletes is as conservative as golfers, and I think I can include NASCAR and wild-game hunters. And they would play in the tournament for free if necessary.

Sponsors, The -- IBM, Citigroup (through its subsidiary, Travelers Insurance), and Coca-Cola. Johnson, to prevent these companies from being harassed, announced last week that the Masters would be broadcast without sponsors in 2003. With all the corporate turmoil this year, these companies -- especially Citigroup, which seems to be near the scene of every corporate crime -- would probably appreciate the diversion of being part of Augustagate. (I'm assuming that's what this will be called; Mastergate seems a bit over the top.) No one will really miss the sponsors, as money is less a part of this golf tournament than any professional sporting event and most amateur sporting events.

Stewart, Martha -- You knew I would get her into this sooner or later. As one of the most visible women in Corporate America -- Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard would be a less fun representative -- Martha is the kind of person who Augusta might invite as a member at, as Hootie Johnson referred to it, "the point of a bayonet." Do you think Martha Stewart, or any woman of the stature of a member of Augusta National, is somehow hurt by not belonging? Do the Martha Stewarts and Carly Fiorinas of the world need the NCWO's help to get somewhere in business?

The Story

Actually, that is the story. And no heroes, unless Phil Mickelson (or, better still, Greg Norman) shoots 30 on the back nine next April to win the 2003 Masters, or Hootie Johnson sends me an e-mail with his gratitude and an invitation to play a round at Augusta National.

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About the Author

Michael Craig is a writer in Scottsdale, Arizona.