Women Masters Fans Side with Hootie

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- She may never wear the green jacket of an Augusta National Golf Club member, but Mary Boldig would still rather stand at Amen Corner than in Martha Burk's corner.
 
Boldig came to the Masters by herself this year from Tullahoma, Tenn. The 49-year-old owner of a printing business is an avid golfer who's played courses in Scotland and Ireland -- at men-only clubs, she notes.
 
Like nearly everyone attending the tournament, Boldig knows all about Burk's crusade against Augusta National's all-male membership. But she's not about to miss a chance to see Tiger Woods win his third straight Masters to picket a private club that admits only the super elite.
 
``It's never a possibility I'd be a member. To be a member, you've got to be somebody,'' Boldig said Thursday, when rain postponed the Masters opening round. ``What's sad now is, whenever they do get a woman member, she's going to think, `I'm just a token.'''
 
The club's members may all be men, but the Masters is definitely a coed affair. And there's no sign that women are boycotting because of Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
 
Women are all over the course this week, some tagging along with husbands, others joining friends for a golf week. They're applauding players from the galleries and spending hefty sums in the pro shop.
 
``If I can have my little ticket and they'll let me come and watch and buy, I'm happy,'' said Linda Spradley of Augusta who dropped $500 on an official Masters watch, charm and sweaters -- some for her husband but ``mostly for me.''
 
T-shirts, caps and buttons with slogans bashing Burk or ballyhooing Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson have also been a hit with women fans.
 
Blake Roberts, a vendor selling souvenirs that mock Burk, said he was nervous of how women might react when he set up his tent outside the course on Monday. ``We were expecting a hornet's nest,'' he said.
 
``It's amazing. We've probably had 50 percent women buying. Women love the idea,'' said Roberts of Chattanooga, Tenn. ``You'll see a couple walking and the woman will go -- -'That's great!' -- and pull her husband in.''
 
He'd just sold a $12 golf towel printed with ``Nice Try Martha'' to a woman whose husband passed on buying an ``I Support Hootie'' button at the tent next door.
 
Many women passing through Augusta National's gates declined to speak with a reporter other than to say they support the club's right to have only men as members.
 
None said they support Burk, who plans to bring in about 200 protesters Saturday.
 
``I'm not concerned about it,'' said Charlotte Knipling, an office manager from Fairfax, Va., who said Augusta National should be no more obligated to admit women than the Boy Scouts. ``We've got the war in Iraq and other things to think about. (Burk) has got her own private vendetta.''
 
Knipling's not a golfer, but her friend Robbye Unger is. The two women left their families at home to attend the tournament.
 
``I'd love to play it,'' said Unger, a retired teacher, referring to the course. ``If they gave me a free membership, I might take it. But in our country we have the right of private association.''
 
Women are allowed to play at Augusta National as guests of its male members. But all things aren't equal for women allowed inside the wrought iron gates.
 
A woman ticket-holder trying to walk through the club's Grill Room restaurant Thursday was stopped by a security guard, who sheepishly explained the eatery is for ``gentlemen only.'' She turned away without arguing.
 
Tolerance for Augusta National's gender barriers is a ``Southern tradition'' for 21-year-old Hanna Atkins, who has attended the Masters with her father since 1987.
 
The University of Georgia student said she can't get too angry about the club being all-male when her sorority only admits women.
 
``I would want my husband to be a member and I would accompany him to the club. But I wouldn't want to be a member myself,'' Atkins said. ``That's the way it is in the South, and some people in the North don't understand that.''
 
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     
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