- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Augusta National Golf Club is the current epicenter of the gender wars. Coca-Cola, Citigroup and IBM, the Masters' three key sponsors, will not be allowed to advertise during next year's tournament. And now individual members of the all-male Augusta National are being pressured to begin admitting females.

But among the rest of corporate America, not only has interest in the Masters stayed strong during Augusta National's fight with the National Council of Women's Organizations, it has increased. Corporate hospitality bookings for the 2003 Masters have increased sharply, and individual tickets for the sold-out event, also a must-have for many executives, remain a hot seller in the secondary market.

"Bookings for next year's Masters are very strong, and the NCWO debate really hasn't been an issue," said Roe Faraone, president of Ideas for Corporate Entertainment, a Chicago-based company that books company outings for Fortune 100 corporations. Bookings for the company have nearly doubled to 225 for 2003.

"In today's uncertain business climate, there are only a few corporate entertainment vehicles that really do well year in and year out, and the Masters is one of them," Faraone said. "A lot of business gets done at the Masters, and that fact has not changed one bit."

Intersport Inc., a Chicago sports marketing company, operates the Double Eagle, a private club located 50 yards from the main gates. The company will play host to more than 400 senior-level corporate executives during Masters week at the club, which does have female members.

"We have seen very little [negative] effect on us because of the issue with the NCWO," said Charles Besser, Intersport chief executive. "Most people in the corporate community believe this issue is going to ultimately get resolved. And I'm not sure everyone thinks the world is really going to change if Augusta admits a woman member.

"Beyond that, though, what makes the Masters so popular is that we have become a big event society. Senior level corporate executives are busier now than ever, but they will make time for big time events like this. It's an incredibly powerful and effective business vehicle."

On the secondary ticket markets, passes to next year's Masters have been selling for as much as $5,400 each. Face value is $125. The Internet auction site EBay yesterday listed nearly three dozen auctions for 2003 Masters tickets.

The strong sales continue even though Martha Burk, NCWO leader, has not ruled out picketing next year's Masters. Since the NCWO first lobbied to Augusta National in June to change its membership policies, the group also has applied pressure to CBS, which has televised the Masters for more than 45 years, the three key tournament sponsors and individual club members.

To date, CBS has not backed off its plans to televise next year's tournament, and Augusta National stands firm in its right to select its membership. Some recent media reports have speculated on some Augusta members pushing for a quick truce to the fight, but club officials declined to comment.

"Picketing is within our capability," Burk said. "Will it happen? I don't know. I'd really prefer a resolution before next spring. But I'm not ruling anything out."

Burk's latest move has been to write to 13 prominent members of Augusta National including Rep. Amo Houghton, New York Republican, and U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Lloyd Ward and ask for an explanation on the contrast between their corporate discrimination policies and the exclusion of women at Augusta National.

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