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Sympatico: Time for Augusta to admit women

My latest column for Sympatico tackles the issue of women and Augusta:

It is a story that won’t go away– Augusta National, home of the Masters, still hasn’t admitted a female member, or at least not one that has been confirmed to the public.  It isn’t an issue that will overshadow the actual tournament – not like Martha Burk’s protest nearly a decade ago that drew headlines and attention to the matter. But it is ever present —  looming like a house guest that stays longer than they are welcome.

The issue cropped up again when Bloomberg News released a story last week saying that IBM’s new chief executive, Virginia Rometty, might have issues with the matter as a prime sponsor of the tournament considering she can’t actually join the club.

It might seem like a tempest in a teapot, but it is time Augusta National joined stepped out of the dark ages and didn’t look like the old boys club that it truly is. It is time to admit that a rule that means half the population can’t be a member at one of the most legendary golf clubs in the world is wrong. And at a time when the game is struggling to find new golfers – many of which are women – we need to recognize Augusta’s stance on gender could now be damaging. We’re not in the 1930s any longer. Times have changed, but Augusta still resembles the club it was when it first opened in 1933.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve played men-only clubs, several in fact. In Canada, the National Golf Club in Woodbridge, Ont. is the only example, but they are relatively common in the U.S. Though my wife chides me for patronizing such a club, I’ve never really had an issue with it. It is a private golf club – exclusionary by nature. Besides, there’s the Toronto Ladies Golf Club, which is the only club in North America where women are the only full members, so I always rationalized that it balanced out, though I recognize it really hasn’t.

Full column is here.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert,

    Judy Bell was the obvious choice when she became president of the USGA. She was the first president not to become a member.

  • The answer is right there in your column, Rob. The key is not Augusta — it’s proven it won’t allow women because of what lobby groups or columnists say.

    It’s the PGA Tour the lobby groups and columnists should be pressuring. Cutting off the money flow and major status would be the only way to achieve the desired effect.

  • It was comical to watch Augusta Chairman Payne answer the questions about woman membership during his press conference today…or should I say “not answer” questions. And then to have multiple reporters ask essentially the same question caused him to be somewhat uncomfortable and at one point stare extendedly at the reporter.

    It seemed he was somewhat affronted that a reporter would have the gumption to ask a basic question about woman membership….especially as it was phrased in the context of how he would explain this gender policy to his grand daughter. A nice positioning by the reporter geared toward making the question personal and highly charged. As they say “Chairman Payne was not amused…”.

    It is disappointing that Augusta National takes this stance. I am sure they would not care if IBM pulls their sponsorship…many others would be lining up right behind them.

    RT and Poster G are bang on…pressure needs to come from the PGA Tour and Sponsors. Take away the points, money contributing to PGA winnings standing, and other perks of performing at the Masters etc…but most importantly start pointing the finger and claiming in the media that this policy needs to change. Augusta National needs to enter the 1970s in terms of racial and gender based policies.

  • “The PGA Tour” is made up of it’s members, and it’s members are the players. I doubt the players want anything to do with this argument. Take away the points, try to remove its Major status (no idea how that could happen) and they would still show up.
    I find it fascinating that we dedicate so much time worrying about the rights are very well off (very rich) women. If Augusta were to admit a woman, it would be a very wealthy woman. I am not sure how much defending these poor victimized women need by the Tour or anyone else for that matter. Don’t misunderstand me, I see discrimination everyday and think we should all continue to fight for equal rights, for women as well as others. But these victims(as the protesters would portray them) don’t need any of our support.
    I know you can argue “it’s a symbol” or about “principles” but this is not an issue which can have any traceable impact on the gender or discrimination debate. Not that I think those arguments are valid. The whole concept is simply put forth from people who value equality (as they understand it) over freedom of association and choice. Both of those rights are equal in my mind. Many would take issue with their very narrow view of equality as well.
    If Sandra Post, Nancy Lopez, Annika and others wanted to create a great golf club only for women, can they not do that? Can they not host a great golf tournament for women only and build a world class reputation over decades? Can they not invite great women business leaders to join? Yes they can, but it takes vision, will and the ability to sustain the effort for decades. Meaning they have the same right to freely associate and build their own traditions without the pressure to do it with men as members as well. If they were to do this, it would do more, much, much more to the “women’s movement” than being invited into a men’s club 75 years after it was established. Homogenization is not necessarily better or “equal” .

  • @ Kerry:

    I agree that the actual issue of discrimination pales in comparison to the symbolism it represents. The message to young girls growing up playing golf and watching “the” Major golf tournament of the year is that they can not be a member of this Club (not that access for men is equal, clearly it is not). Most young boys fall into the same category but they know that they could gain membership if they grow up to head a Fortune 500 company. Shame the same cannot be said for Ms. Rometty.

    The symbolism of the Masters on a variety of levels is concerning. Old powerful white men making their own rules (we do not care about sponsors), dictating in a command and control fashion reminiscent of days gone past (did you see the the manner that Chairman Payne treated those who worked for him or the lowly reporters (in his eyes) that were present in the room). Since when should a reporter have to face a stare from Payne simply because Payne did not like the question (re: Woman membership) as if a lowly surf was questioning the decisions of the landlord.

    I enjoy the Masters and the good things it does for golf and the community (both local and national). But there are aspects of Augusta National and those that run the Masters that make one pause. I can put up with their arrogance and particular ways….just not when it comes to gender based discrimination from a group of powerful old white men.

  • There are certainly more important topics of discussion that should be making headlines than whether or not Augusta National should allow women into their membership. ie: A U.S. economy on the verge of collapse comes to mind, every state in the union is struggling to make ends meet, unemployment numbers at near record levels, ongoing corporate scandal, Wall Street cheats, record bankruptcies, housing foreclosures, homelessness, healthcare inequalities…the list is endless.

    I, along with several million avid golf followers around the world watched Mr. Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club reside over the opening day telecast/news conference. Brilliant opening remarks which included a heartfelt tribute to past champion Seve Ballesteros.

    Unfortunately, from there it turned into a side show as a pair of amateur scribes, one being Karen Crouse, from the NY Times, (a graduate of Krusty the Clowns’ School of Journalism) take great pride in getting under the skin of the chairman. Obviously she and her colleague are under the impression that having a women admitted into the fold at Augusta would bring about an end to those more important issues.

    It’s little wonder that the media has lost the integrity that once made it a proud and respected profession.

  • @57:

    It is easy to make heartfelt tributes to one of Golf’s greats (Seve). It takes integrity to handle difficult questions in a press conference. Flippant answers (“discussions with my granddaughter are private” and “I do not know your daughter”) reflect a level of arrogance by Chairman Payne in addressing a significant issue such as the woman being excluded from one of the most powerful business and social clubs in the world.

    Yes, financial scandals, wall street cheats and the like are important issues but with your logic, then that would be the ONLY news stories ever published. Now that makes a lot of sense…

    It is easy to bash the media but why bother. How about addressing the issue at hand. Old powerful white men excluding qualified members to their powerful club simply because of gender. The symbolism and message that sends globally is very powerful indeed and needs to be addressed.

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