- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

The women's group that is trying to force Augusta National Golf Club to seek female members said yesterday it plans to target PGA Tour sponsors to put pressure on the club's leaders.
Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said the group will focus on the companies that sponsor the PGA Tour on a national level, a group that includes such heavy hitters as Anheuser-Busch and Bank of America.
Title sponsors of individual tournaments, such as Kemper Insurance, the namesake of the locally held Kemper Insurance Open, will not be targeted, she said.
"The PGA Tour is acting in direct violation of their own [anti-discrimination] policies. This is a bad reflection on the sponsors," Mrs. Burk said. "The sponsors, I don't think, want to be supporting that kind of hypocrisy."
Mrs. Burk said the move would be one of several if no progress is made soon on getting the exclusive, 300-member Georgia club to invite a female to join. The club plays host each year to the prestigious Masters golf tournament.
PGA Tour officials said yesterday they were unaware of the NCWO's plans and that no direct link exists between the Augusta club and the tour or its sponsors.
"There is no direct nexus between the title sponsors of our events and Augusta National, nor is there any direct nexus between the PGA Tour and Augusta National," said Bob Combs, PGA Tour senior vice president.
Mrs. Burk and her group have clashed in the past four months with the leaders of Augusta National; CBS, which televises the Masters each year; corporate sponsors of the Masters; the PGA Tour; and individual members of Augusta National.
Mrs. Burk's campaign to force the private club to seek female members has been largely unsuccessful so far.
Augusta National has no female members. The club pulled its battery of sponsors Citigroup, IBM and Coca-Cola for the 2003 tournament to protect them from controversy. CBS rejected the NCWO's demand that it stop televising the tournament, saying it planned no changes in its coverage. Four prominent members of the club, including the chairman of American Express, have publicly expressed support for female membership at Augusta, but no procedure or timetable for inviting a woman has been defined.
Mrs. Burk's latest effort also promises to be a struggle for the NCWO. The PGA Tour sanctions the Masters and counts the winnings of players there in its overall money lists. But the tour does not own the tournament and plays no direct or active role in either organizing or managing the event. Similarly, major PGA Tour sponsors have no role whatsoever in the Masters.
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem last month said he had no plans to change the tour's relationship with the Masters.
In essence, the NCWO's strategy is a three-pronged one in which it hopes to pressure PGA sponsors to pressure the PGA Tour to pressure Augusta National.
Mrs. Burk acknowledged the multistep process is not as effective as directly appealing to Augusta National. As a result, she said, the effort to target sponsors will take a back seat to the group's ongoing campaign of writing letters to Augusta National members. The campaign, in which members are asked to reconcile Augusta's membership policy with the anti-discrimination policies at the companies they lead, has reached more than 40 people.
"When you don't get a response through direct means, you go to indirect means," Mrs. Burk said. "It's the not the first choice, but this is what we intend to do."
Letters to sponsors will be sent in the next couple of weeks.
Mrs. Burk said she would exclude the sponsors of individual tournaments because they are supporting events at golf courses with female members.
"They're the ones playing by the rules, doing the right thing," Mrs. Burk said.
That clear distinction, however, quickly gets muddied: Companies such as Buick, for example, sponsor the tour at the national level as well as individual events.
Sponsor companies contacted yesterday either were unavailable for comment or unaware of the NCWO's plans.
Augusta National has not commented on the issue since July, when chairman William "Hootie" Johnson issued a statement in which he said the club's membership would not be changed "at the point of a bayonet."
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods continues to straddle the fence on the issue. Woods, the most successful and powerful player on the tour, long has been on record both supporting female members at Augusta and the club's legal right to set its own membership.
"Hootie is right and Martha is right," Woods said yesterday. "That's the problem. They're both right, but they're going about it the wrong way. If they both sat down and talked about it, it would be resolved a lot better than what's going on right now."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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