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AP Poll Public Evenly Split on Augusta

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Americans are divided over whether Augusta National Golf Club should have female members, but that doesn't seem to be having much effect on the public image of the famous golf tournament played there, an Associated Press poll found.
 
Three-fourths said knowing the golf club has only male members has not affected their view of the Masters, according to the poll conducted for The AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa. About one in five, 21 percent, said it made them view the tournament less favorably.
 
Jill Jones, a 27-year-old administrator from Pomona, N.Y., said the club's all-male membership doesn't bother her.
 
'Women can go have their own club, and so can men,' she said.
 
When asked which of two statements came closer to their own views, 46 percent of respondents said Augusta National has a right to have an all-male membership, while the same percentage said a club holding such a prestigious tournament should have female members.
 
An overwhelming majority, 75 percent, said Tiger Woods should play in the Masters despite the dispute, while 15 percent said he should not.
 
Woods, who has won the Masters three times, including the last two, plans to play, although he has said he favors admitting a female member to the club. A New York Times editorial on Nov. 18 suggested Woods should not play.
 
'He's doing real good,' said Phil Ermis, a businessman and golfer from Beeville, Texas. 'He tells them he doesn't make the rules and just plays there.'
 
The question about the club's membership got different reactions from women and men.
 
Women were slightly more inclined than men to say the club should have female members. Younger adults also were more likely to feel that way, and the sentiment declined steadily among older groups.
 
Those who follow professional golf, just under a fourth of the population, or 23 percent, were more inclined to defend Augusta National's right to have an all-male membership. The poll of 1,004 people was conducted Nov. 22-26 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
 
The club contends it does not have exclusionary membership policies, although it did not have a black member until 1990, and it has not had a female member in its 70-year history. Chairman Hootie Johnson has said the club might one day allow a female member, 'but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet.'
 
The National Council of Women's Organizations, which has about 6 million members from 160 groups, sent a letter to Johnson on June 12 after chairwoman Martha Burk read reports about Augusta National not having a woman among its 300 members.
 
The club commissioned a survey it released last month that it said indicated overwhelming public support for Augusta National's position on the issue.
 
Augusta National has many current or retired executives of some of the nation's biggest companies among its members, and those companies generally have policies against gender discrimination.
 
Just over half in the poll, 52 percent, said they think it's all right for the executives to belong to a male-only club, while just over a third, 35 percent, said it's not.
 
'I think it's kind of a shame they don't have women in the club, but it's their choice to have anyone in the club they want,' said Kevin Bernier, a 36-year-old businessman and avid golfer from Verona Island, Maine.
 
Bernier and his wife Sue, also 36, have been debating the question of the all-male membership.
 
'My husband and I completely disagree,' she said. 'I think it's outdated and serves no purpose, especially if you're going to represent the ultimate in golf.'