Hootie Johnson Defends Augustas Policy
In recent months a group called the National Council of Women's Organizations, led by their spokeswoman Martha Burk, has been threatening Augusta National Golf Club and anyone even remotely associated with us for allegedly discriminating against women.
As the chairman of that club, I'd like to share some of my thoughts with you about the debate that has now spent several months meandering through the national press. Ms. Burk has misrepresented the issue.
For men of all backgrounds to seek a place and time for camaraderie with other men is as constitutionally and morally proper as it is for women to seek the same with women. Men and women have always occasionally sought out single-sex spheres in certain corners of their social lives, a habit that has always been a positive trapping of civil society. Women gather in book groups to study literature, in investment clubs to discuss the markets, or in fitness clubs to exercise. That they are able to make those choices is a fundamental freedom that most Americans believe is proper and important.
That standard goes both ways - that men seek the companionship of other men through sports and other leisure pursuits is equally desirable. The fact that Augusta National presents the Masters, a tournament admired worldwide, does not mean that the right to do so should be abandoned, let alone scorned.
If we wish to open all private organizations to men and women, as Ms. Burk and NCWO wish to do with Augusta National, the end is near for many uncontroversial and longstanding private groups. Women's colleges like Smith and Wellesley, historically black colleges like Spelman, the Girl Scouts of America, the Junior League, fraternities and sororities, would all have to be dissolved or radically changed from the single-sex profile that has become an essential part of their character and, indeed, the reason they are sought after. Do they, too, 'discriminate'?
At Augusta National, I and the other members enjoy playing golf with friends. Some of these members are business leaders who have been hailed for their work on behalf of women. At the same time, they enjoy the fellowship of this traditionally men's social club, one where golf serves as a diversion from life's more pressing business. I take seriously the original intent of the founder of this club, Bobby Jones, that there is virtue in a place of private retreat.
That was the original idea behind the tournament we present each year - to gather friends, by invitation, one week each year for sportsmanship. Mr. Jones invited his fellow golfers, and, out of regard for his legacy, the competition has become a major event in golf. Millions of Americans have enjoyed watching the tournament as patrons or on television. Over the last five years, the Masters has contributed over $15.5 million to charity, $3.3 in 2002 alone. Still, for more than seven decades, and during the several months a year we are open, the club has remained as it started, a place for friends to gather.
The notion that Augusta National is an enclave of sexist good old boys is ludicrous. Women regularly play the course, with no restrictions. All guests are treated the same, whether they are here to play golf or as patrons of the tournament. It is also incorrect to believe that Ms. Burk speaks for all women on this subject. She does not. In the latest issue of Golf for Women magazine columnist Sally Jenkins supports the right of Augusta National members to do as they please. Why, she asks, 'am I soft on Augusta? Because it is a tradition-bound, invitation-only private club, and I would defend both privacy and tradition with a gun.
Hundreds of letters from women have come to the club in support not only of our policy, but favoring our resolve not to be told what to do by an individual who knows nothing about us. A national survey that will be released tomorrow reveals that over 70 percent of Americans - men and women - support the club's right to make its own membership decisions. That is what we intend to do. Our members have historically shared a kindred spirit and a camaraderie that we view as being the heart and soul of our private club. Whether, or when, we have women as members is something that this club will decide alone, and in private.
How long Ms. Burk and her agenda will be given a voice is up to the media. But how long the public will pay attention is another question. Perhaps this kind of coercion is simply the way by which some political groups try to increase their own membership. It is for others to decide, from where they stand, whether threat-based tactics are appropriate.
But from here, it feels like some things are worth defending, and sometimes that means taking a stand. In my mind and in my heart, I know this is one of them.
(Hootie Johnson is chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club.)
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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.
While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.
“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”
South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.
Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.
Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.
Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.
Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.
“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.
Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.
The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.
Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”
“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”
There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.
Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.
Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.
As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.
Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.
Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.
“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”
Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.
Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.
“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”
That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.
“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.
Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.
In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.
“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”
That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.
Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.
Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.
One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.
“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”
Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.
In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.
Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.