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Votaw Augusta Owes it to Golf to Invite Women

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw urged Augusta National to admit a female member, saying Augusta's obligation to golf outweighs its rights as a private club.
 
The LPGA Tour is not involved with the Masters. Votaw said he wanted to make his position clear because, 'We represent not just women, but the game.'
 
'Augusta's exclusionary practices with respect to women speaks volumes,' he said Wednesday at the season-ending ADT Championship. 'The message it sends is that women cannot be part of that face of golf. And that's wrong.'
 
He said the club's decision to treat race differently from gender is 'perpetuating golf's exclusionary past and the perception that golf is elitist and exclusionary.'
 
Club spokesman Glenn Greenspan disagreed. He said single-gender groups like Augusta National and the LPGA are 'legally and morally proper.'
 
'It is clear that millions of Americans both support and belong to these organizations,' Greenspan said.
 
The LPGA Tour excludes men from competition, and Votaw said that would continue because of the physical differences between men and women.
 
However, he has recommended that his board of directors accept men as members of the LPGA Teaching and Club Pro division, which has 1,200 members.
 
The debate over Augusta National's all-male membership escalated in July when club chairman Hootie Johnson denounced Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations for demanding a female member by the next Masters, in April.
 
The Masters already has dropped its three television sponsors to keep them out of the controversy, and he said two weeks ago there was no chance Augusta National would have a female member in the near future.
 
'This news is disappointing because the highly charged rhetoric on both sides of this issue has become a distraction and is damaging to the game of golf,' Votaw said.
 
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem refused to be drawn into the debate earlier this month during his state-of-the-tour message, saying only that the tour will continue to recognize the Masters as an official tournament.
 
Votaw said he has spoken with Finchem and Johnson recently, but said those conversations would remain private.
 
'Ty has broken ranks and that's good,' Burk said Wednesday evening. 'I think it's more significant than just one more voice. Because the LPGA is one of the ruling bodies, I hope it's going to increase the pressure on the PGA Tour to stop behaving hypocritically.'
 
Augusta National donates more than $3 million a year to charities, and the LPGA Tour is among the beneficiaries. Karrie Webb and Kelly Robbins are among LPGA members who have played Augusta National this year.
 
'The Masters has been the LPGA's friend in many ways,' Votaw said. 'We respect and appreciate and want to acknowledge much of what the organization has done. But we cannot condone its stance on this issue.'
 
The issue has not gone away, even as golf heads into its short offseason.
 
The New York Times wrote an editorial Monday suggesting that two-time defending champion Tiger Woods not play, and that corporate executives give up their membership.
 
Woods said from Japan the editorial was frustrating, because 'I'm the only player they're asking. They're asking me to give up an opportunity no one has ever had -- winning the Masters three years in a row.'
 
During a conference call for the upcoming Skins Game, former Masters champions Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples agreed that it was unfair to single out Woods.
 
They also said they would continue to play in the Masters.
 
'Listen, I'm all for women's rights,' O'Meara said. 'I'm all for equal pay and for women doing as good a job as men. She's got my vote. But I think it's getting a little out of control.'
 
In a letter to the Times published Thursday, Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Woods 'ought not to be expected to shoulder this burden alone.'
 
'The NAACP believes that the athletes who play at discriminatory golf clubs endorse wrongful exclusion by their presence,' Bond added. 'Businesses that sponsor memberships and advertisers and broadcasters of club events subsidize and condone discrimination.'
 
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said last week he would organize protests during the Masters if the club did not admit a female member, and encouraged players not to cross picket lines.
 
'I didn't even know he played golf or knew any golfers,' Couples said. 'I really can't speak on what he's trying to do. I can commend him for it. I think that's great. But I play golf for a living, and it's my favorite tournament.
 
'There is no way that I am not flying to Augusta in April and not playing at Augusta National. There is just no way.'