- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Masters golf tournament is no longer commercial-free after signing up three television sponsors yesterday for the first time since Martha Burk led a corporate campaign against Augusta National Golf Club and its all-male membership.

Club Chairman Hootie Johnson said the Masters would add 90 minutes of TV coverage and go back to its four minutes of advertising every hour.

Two years ago Johnson dropped the Masters’ only TV sponsors — IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup — to keep them from being pressured by Burk and her National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO). Burk had written each company that their sponsorship of the Masters endorsed sex discrimination.

IBM is the only company that returns for the 2005 Masters. The club also signed sponsorship deals with ExxonMobil and SBC Communications, whose chairmen and chief executive officers are members of Augusta National.

“I’m shocked that any responsible company would want to be identified with the blatant sex discrimination practiced by Augusta National,” Burk said. “Perhaps these companies think the controversy has gone away. It has not. It will not.

“I think we’ll probably get in touch with the three companies,” she added. “It’s a heck of a statement to make to their employees, customers and shareholders that gender discrimination is not serious.”

Said ExxonMobil spokeswoman Lauren Kerr: “We’re sponsoring a tournament. The Augusta membership is a decision for their board. But the Masters tournament stands as one of the world’s leading sporting events, and that’s where our focus is.”

The Masters, held each April at Augusta National in Augusta, Ga., became the first commercial-free sports event in 2003 when the club dropped its TV sponsors. Even though Burk’s protest fizzled in a grassy lot about a half-mile down the street from Augusta National, the club went without commercials last April.

Johnson had said the club could go on “indefinitely” without TV advertising revenue. Still, it raised four-day ticket prices to last year’s Masters from $125 to $175, and the tournament reaps revenue from merchandise sales and international TV rights. The Masters is broadcast in 190 countries.

In a statement from the club, Johnson did not say why the Masters decided to return to television sponsors, but that fans would be pleased with the additional TV coverage. The club said Johnson would have no further comment.

USA Network will add an additional 30 minutes of coverage for the first two rounds (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT), while CBS Sports will add 30 minutes to its coverage of the third round (3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Coverage of the final round remains 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Phil Mickelson, who recently signed a deal with ExxonMobil to promote math and science education, is the defending champion.

Augusta National does not have a membership policy, but it has not had a female member in its 70-year history.

In a June12,2002, letter to Johnson, Burk urged Augusta National to invite a woman to join so that it would not become an issue at the next Masters.

Johnson took that as a threat and issued a three-page statement in which he said Augusta National would not be bullied or intimidated. In what became a slogan to the 10-month campaign, Johnson said the club might one day have a female member on its own timetable and “not at the point of a bayonet.”

Burk began her campaign by attacking television sponsors (which Johnson dismissed) and CBS Sports (which continued to broadcast the Masters). She later started a Web site (www.augustadiscriminates.org) that included a “Hall of Hypocrisy,” in which the NCWO listed corporations that claimed to have policies against sex discrimination, but whose CEOs were members at Augusta National.

A federal appeals court ruled in April that Burk should have been allowed to demonstrate outside the gates at Augusta National. City officials, citing safety concerns, made her go to a grassy lot down the street.

Burk did not return in April, and has not said whether she will return.

The Masters is one of four majors, along with the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide