Womens Group Challenges Augusta National Membership Policies


A coalition of womens organizations wants to change the all-male membership of the home of the Masters ' but that club has aggressively defended its right to set its own policies.
Our member groups are very concerned that the nations premier golf event, the Masters, is hosted by a club that discriminates against women by excluding them from membership, reads a June 12 letter to Augusta National Golf Club from Dr. Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Womens Organizations. Burk admitted that the club has no written policy against membership for women, but noted that no woman has been asked to join since the club opened in 1932.
The letter includes a call to change membership policies now, so that this is not an issue when the tournament is staged next year.
Read the entire letter from the NCWO
Dr. Burk, reached by phone in her Washington, D.C. office, confirmed that if the club does not change its policies, the NCWO would consider bringing economic pressure.
I think we would have a conversation with some of the sponsors, Burk said.
Club members debated the issue heavily, say sources close to the matter, before responding July 9 with a two-page statement from William W. Hootie Johnson, chairman of Augusta National.
Augusta National and the Masters ' while happily entwined ' are quite different, the statement said. One is a private golf club. The other is a world-class sports event of great public interest. It is insidious to attempt to use one to alter the essence of the other. The essence of a private club is privacy.
Johnson predicted in the statement that the NCWO might begin a campaign that depicts Augusta National members as bigots, or that employs boycotts, Internet chat rooms, and a variety of other tactics.
Nonetheless, We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated, the statement said.
Read Hootie Johnson's entire response
He gave me some ideas I hadnt thought of, Burk said after reading Johnsons statement.
There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet, the statement also said.
The only direct response to the NCWO was a three-paragraph July 8 letter from Johnson to Burk in which Johnson found [Burks] letters several references to discrimination, allusions to sponsors and your setting of deadlines to be both offensive and coercive.
The letter closed the issue from the clubs point of view, calling further communication unproductive.
The NCWO took up the membership question after Burk read a column about the issue by Christine Brennan in USA Today, Burk said.
Current sponsors of the Masters include Citigroup, a financial services company, Coca-Cola, and IBM. Cadillac, once regular sponsor, is now the official car of the Masters; that is the only such product relationship the tournament has. CBS has been the broadcast partner of the Masters since 1956.
The National Council of Womens Organizations is an umbrella group of 160 separate groups that focus on issues relating to womens rights. Its members include the National Organization for Women and the Womens Sports Foundation.
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