- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2012

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Gary Player was camped out under the big oak tree behind the clubhouse, signing autographs and posing for pictures as he did 50 years ago. At the many snack stands scattered around Augusta National, pimento cheese sandwiches in green wrappers were selling for 1962 prices _ a buck fifty.

A place stuck in a time warp, just like the men in green jackets who run it.

They gathered Wednesday for their annual State of the Masters report and, despite some wilting azaleas that will make this year’s Masters a bit less colorful, it seems that things have never been better in one of the last bastions of exclusivity in sports.

The Cadillacs out front no longer have tail fins the length of belly putters, and the players don’t smoke anymore between shots. But the snacks are still cheap, the old-timers keep coming back, and the green jacket for winning remains the most coveted prize in golf.

One other thing hasn’t changed: Membership in the club is by invitation only, and women, it seems, need not apply.

Why that’s become an issue again this year is largely a matter of circumstance _ the recent appointment of a woman executive to head IBM, one of the main sponsors of the Masters. As far as anyone knows, Virginia Rometty hasn’t asked for her own green jacket, but since the last four CEOs at IBM, all male, were members, she goes to the top of the list by default.

Hardly reason to take to the streets, as activist Martha Burk did a decade ago in an ill-fated attempt to open up Augusta National’s membership to women. Even the most ardent feminists would be hard-pressed to march on behalf of a millionaire business executive who lives in the rarified air of the privileged elite.

Lee Westwood found the whole thing amusing.

“What gender issue? I’m a man,” the Englishman said.

Still, two decades after a black man finally was given a green jacket to wear, the basic issue is one of equality. I’m not going to become a member of Augusta National, and odds are you aren’t, either, for reasons that have nothing to do with race or sex. But to automatically exclude half the world’s population because it’s female just seems so 1962.

Not to the men in the green jackets, of course. They bristle when the subject is raised and immediately hide behind the only protective cover they know: It’s their club, and they alone will decide who belongs.

“As has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday. “That statement remains accurate and that remains my statement.”

Fair enough, I guess. Rich people can be picky when it comes to who they share a tee box with, but in the end it is their club and they can do what they wish.

Problem is, when Payne said that he had barely finished talking about Augusta National’s role in golf and its responsibilities for helping grow the number of people who play the game. The club wants to get more people playing, he said, especially the girls and boys who are the future of the game.

As it stands now, those boys can dream of one day wearing green jackets themselves. The girls can’t.

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