Hootie and Martha Alot Alike

By Associated PressApril 4, 2003, 5:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hootie Johnson and Martha Burk are a lot alike, hard as that is to believe. They are tenacious about their causes, steadfast in their beliefs and convinced they've claimed the moral high ground on the issue of women members at Augusta National Golf Club.
Of course, that's where their paths veer off sharply. Johnson, chairman of the Masters tournament and the club, is the staunch defender of Augusta's all-male membership, saying that is the prerogative of a private club.
Not so, says Burk, head of National Council of Women's Organizations. She believes Johnson is stuck in a gender time warp.
Martha BurkAfter months of verbal haggling, angry letters and attempts to sway others to their sides, the dispute 'comes home,' so to speak, next week.
The tournament starts Thursday, with Tiger Woods going for his third straight green jacket. And TV viewers will see more of it than ever before, thanks to the dispute. Johnson cut loose corporate backers to shield them, he said, from possible backlash, so the Masters is commercial free. One of the lines Johnson drew in the sand.
Burk and her supporters plan to protest on Saturday, during the third round. They won't be allowed to march in front of the main gates as requested; instead, they'll be kept to a tract about a half mile away. In Burk's eyes, she's already won.
'There is a turning point that will not change, regardless of when Augusta changes its policy,' she said. 'It is a place that corporate America will not want to go near, and that's appropriate.'
Johnson sees the dispute much differently.
'You know, some of the media tries to portray us -- or this woman portrays us -- as being discriminatory, and being bigots. And we're not,' he said last year. 'We're a private club. We will prevail because we're right.'
Many of Johnson's friends and colleagues are surprised he's taken such a high-profile stand on such a contentious issue. They've always known him to be a backroom operator, a genteel banker who would prefer to solve problems quietly, without a fuss.
During the civil right's movement, Johnson remained largely under the radar while chipping away at discrimination in his native South Carolina. He helped get blacks elected to the state legislature. He promoted blacks in the corporate boardroom. He ran a committee to desegregate the state's colleges.
'He had the reputation of being progressive,' said I.S. Leevy Johnson, one of three blacks elected to the legislature in 1970 with Hootie Johnson's backing. 'He was diplomatic in his opinions. He had a general concern for the feelings of others. And he was a very strong-willed person. That's characteristic of leaders.'
His strong-willed side came to the forefront when Burk demanded that the club initiate a female member. He fired back with an angry statement, saying Augusta National would not admit women 'at the point of a bayonet.'
A few weeks ago, Georgia's conservative governor, Sonny Perdue, raised Johnson's ire by suggesting -- almost in passing -- that everyone would like to see the club admit women at some point. Johnson wasted no time answering with a stinging letter.
'For the governor of our state to suggest that we should capitulate to special interest groups when the constitution is on our side and we have done nothing wrong is a bit surprising and very disappointing,' he wrote.
While Johnson appears increasingly thin-skinned, some say Burk has gone too far by linking the membership dispute to the war in Iraq.
'It's appalling that the women who are willing to lay down their lives for democratic ideals should be shut out of this club,' she said recently. Burk later said she was merely trying to compare women returning from this war to blacks who endured continued segregation after fighting for their country in World War II.
While detractors portray Burk as a media hound who keeps reporters' phone numbers on her speed dial, she says that even she is surprised at the amount of attention her Augusta campaign has generated.
'I had no idea that golf was a separate religion, or as my son puts it, 'Augusta is the Westminster Abbey of golf,'' she said.
Burk points to her other causes: abortion rights, lobbying for female aid on Capitol Hill, taking part in a United Nations' program on family planning. 'All that has gone unreported,' she said. 'I'd kill for this kind of attention, just to get that other stuff mentioned.'
Though some might characterize his stance on women members as stubborn, Johnson has shown plenty of flexibility when it came to tinkering with the club's signature event. Since taking over in 1998, he's overseen more changes than the previous three chairmen combined. The qualifying criteria changed, television coverage expanded and the course underwent its biggest renovation since the club opened in 1933.
Tiger Woods knows first-hand that Johnson will listen to suggestions. Woods and Mark O'Meara recently played a practice round at Augusta and this is what Woods said afterward: 'I mentioned to (Johnson) that on 18, there was a tree on the right side of the fairway, one limb that I thought was unfair. Mark-O hit it out there 280 yards, which is good for him, and he had no shot. I mentioned that to Hootie and he said, 'I'll go take a look at it.' 'The next day, the limb was gone. So, he does listen.'
Johnson also has gone back and forth on the club's policy of allowing former champions to play in the Masters as long as they like -- even when they are barely capable of getting around the course. First, Johnson drew the ire of three aging former champions by asking them not to play. Then he set up a written policy that cut off playing privileges for everyone at age 65. Then he backtracked again in recent days, welcoming back all former champs as long as they feel competitive.
Augusta National avoided that sort of public mea culpa when the issue of racially exclusive clubs came to the forefront. The club didn't admit its first black member until 1990, but it moved quickly after the dispute at Shoal Creek made white members-only clubs a potential target for protests. When it came to women, Johnson chose a different tact.
'Shoal Creek has got nothing to do with this. Nothing,' he said. 'Racial discrimination and gender are two different things. 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? Do you? It's not relevant,' he said last year.
To Burk, it is. Some day, she says, there will be a woman wearing a green jacket. It's just a matter of time.
'I don't know why the club just doesn't take the high road and announce a change in policy on a reasonable timetable,' Burk said. 'The club cannot see the inevitable. Instead, they have put the world of golf, us, their members, through a ringer.'
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the 2003 Masters Tournament
  • The Augusta National Debate: A Chronology
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

    Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

    The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

    Getty Images

    Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

    By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

    JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

    Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

    The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

    Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

    Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

    Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

    None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

    An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

    In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

    Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

    Playing with the pros

    Tiger, DJ and Faxon

    Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

    Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

    Rory faces criticism

    Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

    Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'

    President at the Presidents Cup

    Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

    Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

    Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump

    Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

    Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

    Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73

    Cart on the green

    Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green

    Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open

    Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

    Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

    Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National

    Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open

    Trump golf properties


    Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

    Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses


    Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

    Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

    Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

    Reportedly fake TIME covers

    Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover

    Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

    Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

    Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up

    Pros comment on the president

    Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

    Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm