- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. Martha Burk is sending out another 25 letters this week to high-profile members of the Augusta National Golf Club, urging them to pressure their colleagues to admit women.
But some members are saying they won't back down.
The 25 missives from the 60-year-old grandmother and head of the National Council of Women's Organizations come as the esteemed 300-member club begins its new season.
Members and their guests began arriving early Thursday, driving past the security hut at the Washington Road entrance, up the vaunted driveway lined with magnolia trees to the white clubhouse at the end.
And the hard line the club has taken on private membership is holding.
"I can't see us getting a vote on that, after all this," said one older club member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Most policies are made through a vote among the membership, he said.
"And we rarely vote on anything, because we rarely change policy," he said, as he prepared for his first outing of the season at the course.
Since early summer, Mrs. Burk has used her position as the head of the feminist organization to pressure the 70-year-old, all-male club of wealthy golf aficionados into admitting women.
Upon being publicly rebuffed by Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson, Mrs. Burk began threatening advertisers and corporate sponsors of the annual Masters Tournament, the only one of golf's four "grand slam" events to have a permanent home. Augusta National then countered by dropping all three principal sponsors IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup saying the 2003 Masters would be televised with no ads.
Nothing in the club's by-laws prohibits a woman from being a member, as opposed, to, for example, the Ladies Pro Golfers Association, which requires that a member "be born a woman," a comparatively restrictive policy that has received virtually zero attention.
"That is going to change, and [the LPGA] is a club as opposed to something that holds a large event, like the [Masters]," Mrs. Burk said. "The men are doing a very large public event for profit, and that club is not open to women."
The reaction here in Augusta is dismissive.
"Oh yeah, that's going to do a lot of good for the women of the nation, one millionaire woman in a men's club," said Bonnie Ruben, one of five mayoral candidates in this gothic-tinged Southern city of 200,000 that sits on the banks of the Savannah River, which separates Georgia and South Carolina.
While some club members most of them recent admissions have publicly demanded a change that includes female members, many more are ready to stay the course.
A striking difference between the two sides is that while the advocates for change have tossed aside a club policy that appoints only Mr. Johnson to speak for the club, the opposition and its wives speaks only on the condition of anonymity, out of respect for protocol.
Southern hostility
Mrs. Burk has never visited Augusta. If she did, she would likely be greeted with some authentic Southern hostility.
"This is someone who just doesn't understand what we are doing here and what this club is all about," said the wife of one Augusta National member, who spoke on the condition she not be named. "It is a private club. Why is this so hard to understand?"
Female guests and spouses of members are allowed to play Augusta.
The woman's husband sided with Mr. Johnson, who in July told Mrs. Burk the club would not be pressured "at the end of a bayonet" into admitting women.
"I agree with Hootie all the way," the husband said. "And my bet is the majority will."
Some locals say it is inevitable a woman will be asked to join eventually.
"This will just postpone it, this agitating," said Jim Benedict, a math professor at Augusta State University. With his ponytail and his skinny tie, Mr. Benedict, an Augusta resident since 1976, is emblematic of a sizable local contingent of bohemians, a liberal group of townies who are content to let the club have its way.
Mr. Benedict has worked at the Masters as a sound technician for 10 years.
"This effort to get a woman in is just putting Hootie's back up against the wall, and he has already shown that he doesn't take that," Mr. Benedict said.
A member who says he plays at the club "three or four times a year" doubts women will ever be admitted.
"I don't see it," said the member, a retired executive. "But when they put it to a vote, I'll vote. And I'll vote against a woman member."
From his plush, comfortable chair, Gardelle Lewis, a garrulous and well-connected local real estate agent, has a good view of the 13th hole at Augusta but it sits in a frame on his office wall. Golf passes for commerce, for art and for lifestyle in this town.
Mr. Lewis is wealthy and he hangs out with club members. He knows them, and he knows the town, and he wonders: "What will happen to those [members] who have been talking about getting women in?"
"I doubt that they'll be members after all of this," he says. "It will be very interesting."
There are at least six blacks among the club membership, all of them admitted since 1990. Two of them, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and Lloyd Ward, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, have made public statements in support of Mrs. Burk.
So what would happen if the agitators were told they could no longer be members?
"That would be one more step toward the demise of the tournament," promised Mrs. Burk.
Cigars and scotch
Beyond the course at the Augusta Country Club, over the dogwood grove that rims the boundary, are the lights of the August National Golf Club.
Most of the local members of Augusta National are also members at the Augusta Country Club, so closely knit are the two.
On a terra-cotta veranda one recent evening, the town's elite mixed, chatted and drank, leaning on the carefully painted white railing that rims the porch, drinking white wine and gin-and-tonics and occasionally warming to the subject of women at the neighboring club.
"It is such a nonstory," said one gentleman, slowly swishing his vodka tonic. "I mean, in his town, nobody cares that much."
"This is the South. This is how things are done here. Men have their clubs, women have theirs," added a well-preserved woman of around 80. Her father was a member, one of the first in the 1930s, and her husband is now a member.
And with her classic, blonde bouffant hairdo, she cuts a striking figure as she gives her version of common sense. She wonders about the Chenaults and the Wards, men who, she says, live in faraway places and issue statements as a form of corporate self-preservation.
"If this is a club in which they don't like the policy, why on earth would they want to remain members?" she asked. "I don't understand. I sure wouldn't be part of a private club if I didn't like the policies. They look like idiots."
The plantation feel of the place makes every scene seem like an outtake from "Gone With the Wind," and the humidity from the evening's rain is relieved by the furious white ceiling fans.
Downstairs in the men's grill, where no women are allowed, the air smells of cigars and scotch, and a football game is on the big screen in the corner. The men wear khakis and crested blazers and talk about cars, buying homes and golf.
But they don't talk about admitting women into Augusta National Golf Club.
Just outside the grill, there are plaques devoted to women golfers. It was Fred Corcoran who, in 1950, established the Ladies Golf Hall of Fame, right here at the country club.
Mrs. Burk is aware of women's strides in golf and Augusta National's role, but it has not swayed her one bit.
"They said that about Jim Crow and slavery," Mrs. Burk said. "That kind of statement has been made to justify all kinds of oppression."
Several locals say her idea of forcing the admission of women borders on the infringement of the right to free association.
"She doesn't understand the culture here," said one young man of about 40 at Augusta Country Club.
Augusta Mayor Bob Young is sure there will be a Masters for years to come, regardless of threatened protests and pickets.
"We've had pickets here before," the mayor said. "It brings in even more people. We all know of the right to free association. And I'm sure that if they want to let Martians in, they will decide on their own when to do it."


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