Sideshow Breaks Out

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Instead of a robe, the Klansman wore a shirt and jeans. He proudly showed people pictures of his poodles, Q-Tip, Biscuit and Tinker Bell. 'So,' a reporter asked, 'are you going to suit up?' 'Never mind the messenger,' replied J.J. Harper, the Imperial Wizard and only member of the KKK's American White Knights chapter. 'Listen to the message.'
 
That was never more difficult than during the full-bore freak show that broke out Saturday a couple of par-5s down the road from the Masters.
 
Martha Burk, the chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, spent nine months vowing to bring enormous pressure to bear on the all-male bastion of the Augusta National Golf Club. She spent much of the morning struggling to explain why the protest fizzled.
 
Even by the most generous counts, she totaled 50 supporters. On the other hand, what Burk's protest lacked in numbers, it more than made up for with absurdities.
 
She trotted out a large, inflatable pig and slapped the logos of some of the corporations whose chieftains are members on its side. In a skit best described as surreal, a life-sized cutout of a Klansman appeared on the NCWO stage alongside a similarly sized cutout of a woman in a military uniform.

They swayed to techno-music. A Burk supporter inexplicably shouted out, 'Never again,' to which the rest of us can only say, 'Amen Corner.'
 
Then, Burk proposed redrawing the map of the United States. It included the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii and the 'police state of Augusta.'
 
Say this much for Burk: It certainly looked that way on the weedy, two block-long patch of grass set aside by local authorities for the nine different groups that requested permits to demonstrate.
 
'Don't you find it a little ironic that we can stand on the front steps of the Supreme Court and can march in groups larger than four in front of the White House, but we can't get to the front gates of Augusta National Inc.?' Burk said. 'What do you think these boys are afraid of?'
 
What indeed, since the city, county and state police detail outnumbered protesters by at least 3-to-1. Fortunately, the only time they were needed was to move a man carrying signs that read, 'Iron My Shirts' and 'Make My Dinner' from in front of the NCWO stage.
 
Order was restored with even less effort inside the gates of Augusta National. The day began with Mike Weir - a left-handed Canadian - threatening to run away with the tournament. Tiger Woods, meanwhile, had to rally furiously just to make the cut.
 
It ended with Weir deposed by the equally unintimidating Jeff Maggert and Woods, after a breathtaking climb up the leaderboard, within four strokes of the lead.
 
'I played the golf course for what it would give me,' Woods said afterward with typical understatement. 'And that was it. Some of the shots I even played more conservatively than I should have.'
 
But the galleries were more than liberal with their applause. It was the kind of response Burk would have killed for, but likely will never get in this town.
 
'None of these people really care about what's going on outside the gates of this club,' said Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and member of Augusta National. 'Come on, it's a golf tournament.'
 
Burk refused to believe that either the message or the messenger was responsible for the apathy. In a weaker moment, she repeated an earlier assertion that the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation had engaged in a campaign of dirty tricks to dampen attendance at the rally.
 
Foundation spokesman Chris Kennedy said he was hardly surprised to hear Burk again blame 'a vast right-wing conspiracy.'
 
'I understand Mrs. Burk had a bad day,' he said. 'Sadly, I cannot say we had anything to do with the problems she had.'
 
If anything, the day confirmed the wisdom of the old adage, 'If you can't say anything nice about somebody, better not to say anything at all.' The most effective protests were conducted by two groups whose silence proved eloquent.
 
One was a lone man who wore a tuxedo and carried a sign that said only, 'Formal Protest.' The other was organized by a former University of Georgia student named Deke Wiggins and a few of his friends. They brought out a hand-lettered sign that read, 'People Against Ridiculous Protests,' stuck it the ground and went home.
 
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