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Court Rulings Highlight Masters First Day

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- On the first day of Masters week, there was more action in court than on the course.
In two separate rulings Monday, a federal judge turned down Martha Burk's request to protest outside the front gate of Augusta National Golf Club. She wants the club to admit its first female member.
Meanwhile, heavy thunderstorms forced the club to postpone a valuable day of practice for the tournament, which begins Thursday. The gates never opened to fans, either, the first time that's happened during Masters week since 1983.
Raincoats at AugustaRich Beem, winner of the PGA Championship, was eager to play the course after qualifying for his first Masters. His day ended after about a half-hour on the soggy practice range.
'I wanted to get out early,' Beem said. 'It's frustrating, but that's how it goes.'
Burk is planning to protest Augusta National's all-male membership during the third round of the tournament Saturday.
Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations, wanted to post 24 demonstrators outside the front gate of Augusta National and 200 more across the street.
But Sheriff Ronald Strength, who has broad authority over public protests, told Burk and other groups the only place they can protest legally is a 5.1-acre site nearly a half-mile from the gate.
Strength said there's too much traffic along Washington Road, which runs in front of the club, to ensure safe protests.
ACLU lawyers challenged the ordinance, saying it gives the sheriff too much power to approve or deny protests and dictate their location.
U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. sided with the city.
'The ordinance does not discriminate against a particular viewpoint or limit speech to certain subject matters,' he wrote in a 17-page decision.
In a second ruling, Bowen said the sheriff acted properly to enforce the ordinance.
The judge called the area outside Augusta National 'profoundly congested' during the Masters and said allowing protesters to congregate outside the gate presents 'a realistic, plausible, even probable potential for some accidental injury.'
'Obviously, we're disappointed with the ruling,' said Gerry Weber, legal director of Georgia ACLU, which filed the suit on Burk's behalf.
Augusta National maintained that it had no interest in the court case.
'As we have said all along, any demonstrations that take place outside our grounds are a matter solely for local authorities,' club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said.
The sheriff's office has approved protest permits for nine groups.
Umbrella at AugustaBurk and the Rev. Jesse Jackson plan to demonstrate against the all-male membership. Two groups have received permits to protest against Burk. Another group plans to protest against Jackson. A one-man faction of the Ku Klux Klan, who lists Tiger Woods as his favorite golfer, will support Augusta National's rights to private membership.
Another man wants to demonstrate in support of President Bush's war policy.
Then there's Deke Wiggins and his 'People Against Ridiculous Protests.' Their permit has been approved, too.
Scott Hoch, comfortably dry in the locker room as rain soaked the course, wasn't concerned about what's going on outside the course.
'We're concerned with how we're going to play here,' he said.
The few players who hung around the clubhouse chatted about the rain, the course and the war in Iraq. On the big screen in the grill room, CNN was showing images of the war.
'We're thinking and worrying about our people in Iraq,' Hoch said. 'Even the golf tournament is minuscule compared to that.'
The sight of American troops under fire in Iraq has cast a somber pall over the Masters, Hoch said.
'This is just a game,' he said. 'Over there, they're playing for their lives.'
Woods, who will try to become the first player to win three straight Masters, did not show up Monday. Still, it was a good day for him because of all the rain.
The damp grass will make the course play even longer than its 7,290 yards, a big advantage for Woods and other big hitters.
Some fans milled outside the gates for hours before being told they would not be allowed inside.
'We are disappointed that our patrons could not enjoy today's practice round,' Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said. 'However, our first concern must be safety.'
More rain was forecast Tuesday.
Masters officials said fans will be sent refunds in May for their unused tickets and given preference to buy practice tickets for next year.