- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Augusta National Golf Club chairman William W. "Hootie" Johnson lashed out at a national women's group yesterday for telling the club to have female members before next year's Masters Tournament or it would pressure sponsors to pull out.

"Our membership alone decides our membership not any outside group with its own agenda," Mr. Johnson said in a long and angry statement.

"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," Mr. Johnson said.

The National Council of Women's Organizations, which has about 6 million members from 160 groups, sent a letter to Mr. Johnson on June 12 after Chairwoman Martha Burk read reports about Augusta National not having women among its 300 members.

Lloyd Ward, the first black chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee and an Augusta member, said in April during the Masters that he would lobby to broaden the membership to include women. Augusta did not have a black member until 1990 and has never had a female member.

"We know that Augusta National and the sponsors of the Masters do not want to be viewed as entities that tolerate discrimination against any group, including women," Miss Burk wrote in her letter.

Mr. Johnson said he found Burk's letter "offensive" and "coercive," and that there would be no more discussion with the NCWO because Augusta membership matters are private.

"The message delivered to us was clearly coercive," he said. "We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated. We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case."

That reply did not sit well with Miss Burk.

"The response is insensitive at best and confrontational at worst," Miss Burk said. "I and my groups are making a good-faith effort to urge the club to be fair, to not discriminate against women and basically to come into the 21st century."

Miss Burk said the NCWO next would contact the Masters' biggest sponsors Coca-Cola, IBM and Citigroup and urge them to not do business with Augusta National.

"I hope they'll respond positively," she said. "I find it interesting to think that if the club barred blacks, whether any sponsor would come near it in this day and age. Why should it be different for barring half of the population?"

Miss Burk suggested that if Augusta National does not have female members, the Masters should move to a club that does.

"The Masters, in my mind, is not tied at the hip to this club," she said. "An event of this profile could be held somewhere else."

Augusta National opened in 1932. The Masters was created in 1934 by golf legend Bobby Jones and has become the most famous golf tournament in the world. It usually gets the highest television ratings, too.

Unlike the other three major golf championships, which are held at different courses every year, the Masters is always held at Augusta National.

Mr. Johnson drew a distinction between the privacy of the club and the public nature of the Masters tournament, which is attended by 40,000 people daily.

Augusta National operates the Masters independent of any other golf organization, such as the PGA Tour. The club gets most of its money from an annual TV contract with CBS Sports and sales from its souvenir store at the course.

Weekly tickets cost $125, about half the cost of other major golf championships.

"Augusta National and the Masters while happily entwined are quite different," Mr. Johnson said. "One is a private golf club. The other is a world-class sports event of great public interest. It is insidious to attempt to use one to alter the essence of the other."


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