- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Augusta National Golf Club will not bow to pressure to admit a female member before the Masters tournament in April and will win the fight over the club's all-male membership, Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson said in an interview made public yesterday.
"We will prevail because we're right," Mr. Johnson said last week in an interview with the Associated Press. It was the first time Mr. Johnson had commented on the matter since the club's battle with the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) became public in July.
"Our club has enjoyed a camaraderie and a closeness that's served us well for so long that it makes it difficult for us to consider change," said Mr. Johnson, 71. "A woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is out in the future. And in the meantime, we will hold dear to our tradition and our constitutional right to choose and associate."
Mr. Johnson added that there is no chance the 2003 Masters will be canceled or postponed.
The NCWO, led by the outspoken Martha Burk, has campaigned strongly to force a woman to be admitted to Augusta National, a private club that plays host to the world's most prestigious professional golf tournament.
Ms. Burk has targeted club members, the companies that sponsor the Masters, and the PGA Tour and its sponsors in an effort to get them to pressure Augusta National to admit women. She also demanded that CBS drop its broadcast of the Masters. CBS refused.
Ms. Burk said yesterday that she was not surprised by Mr. Johnson's remarks.
"He seems to be digging in his heels now," Ms. Burk told The Washington Times. "My guess is that he's under siege and has an internal rebellion on his hands. Otherwise, he wouldn't be coming out in such belligerent fashion."
Mr. Johnson said he did not regret releasing to the public an angry, three-page statement in July in which he said the club would not be pressured "at the point of a bayonet" into admitting a woman. Mr. Johnson's comments heightened the tension between the two sides considerably and prompted Ms. Burk to pursue her multipronged campaign against Augusta National.
"I seldom have any regrets. I don't look back much," he said. "I regret that she threatened us. And I regret that she threatened our sponsors."
During Mr. Johnson's interview with the AP, he never referred to Ms. Burk by name, instead saying, "this woman" or "that woman."
"This woman portrays us as being discriminatory and being bigots. And we're not," Mr. Johnson said, defending his legal right to decide its members. "We're a private club. And private organizations are good. The Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Junior League, sororities, fraternities are these immoral?"
Mr. Johnson said there is no connection between racial and gender discrimination.
"Do you know of any constitutional lawyer that's ever said they were the same? Do you know any civil rights activists that said it was the same? It's not relevant," he said. "Nobody accepts them as being the same."
Women are welcome at the 69-year-old Augusta National as guests of members, and women play about 1,000 rounds per year there.
Mr. Johnson also said that playing host to the Masters does not make the private club a public entity.
"That's one week. Fifty-one weeks of the year, we are a private club," Mr. Johnson said. "And we do something good for one week, for the sporting world, and we're going to be penalized?"
Mr. Johnson refused to address recent public statements by Citigroup Chairman Sanford I. Weill and U.S. Olympic Committee Executive Director Lloyd Ward, both Augusta National members, and two other members who spoke in favor of female membership. Those comments, the result of pressure applied by the NCWO, violated a cardinal rule at Augusta National that stipulates that only Mr. Johnson is empowered to speak publicly on club issues.
"I'm not going to talk about members. We'll handle that internally," Mr. Johnson said. "We don't discuss member matters."
Mr. Johnson has also shielded Citigroup, Coca-Cola and IBM, the three leading sponsors of the Masters, from the furor by pulling their spots from next year's tournament. That means the event will run commercial-free, a radical departure from the rest of mainstream televised sports.
The likelihood of a large and loud protest at the 2003 Masters has been increased now that Mr. Johnson has ruled out admitting a woman before April. Ms. Burk said college students have contacted her, saying they are willing to forgo spring break to protest at Augusta National.
"Our patrons are ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Johnson said. "They'll ignore any protesters that may be there."
Ms. Burk, however, refuses to consider the matter closed before the 2003 Masters.
"I still don't believe we've heard the final word on this" before April, she said. "There is internal division [at Augusta], and I am convinced we haven't heard the last on this before next year."

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