Globe Commentary: Augusta "has proven its determination before."

I really enjoyed Guy Nicholson’s op-ed in the Globe and Mail discussing the issue of women and Augusta National. I think he’s bang on in his discussion on the subject. All too often I get responses — as I did to my Sympatico column on the subject — that Augusta is a private club and can do what it wants. That’s true to a point. But how many private clubs host major championships? Not many. And other than Muirfield in Scotland, I can’t think of another private club that hosts a tournament that openly discriminates on the basis of gender. That’s why the National Golf Club of Canada, as Nicholson rightfully points out, will never host a Canadian Open. I also doubt RBC would agree to play the tournament if it were held at a course that wouldn’t allow both genders to be members.

Anyway, this is Nicholson’s point, which is basically the same as mine — it is time for the PGA Tour and its players to step up and say this is wrong:

A public battle over this issue is the nuclear option, and extremely unlikely. The players love playing at Augusta National. Even if they were persuaded to hold out, the club would be forced to choose between its membership policy or the prestige of its tournament, and it has proven its determination before – potential outcomes might be an ugly attempt to split the players, a phony major played without touring pros, even outright cancellation of the tournament. It would be a dirty stain on both professional golf and Augusta National’s private cathedral.

The only thing I’d add is that touring pros are decidedly conservative. Perhaps many of them actually agree with Augusta’s perspective, which would be troublesome, but not surprising.

Nicholson’s 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.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This whole private club argument is getting ridiculous. Why shouldn’t a group of men be allowed to have a men-only club? It’s hardly misogynist. Now if the LPGA were to host an event at a women’s-only club, would I care? Sh0uld anyone care? It’s a women’s tournament, why shouldn’t they host it at such a club? This is a men’t tournament. Were it to be a mixed tournament or a women’s tournament, where they would derive revenue from the women’s tour, I would find it inappropriate.
    The question again becomes one of where are the limits to gender discrimination. There should be no discrimination. But if I take a golf trip, is it necessary for me to invite women? Not if I don’t want to. By the same token, if I establish a private club, why can I not say that I prefer male company at my golf course. I don’t hate women, or their company. But I may decide I prefer men at my golf club (which I am paying a lot of money for.) There are plenty of women’s study groups, health clubs etc. I don’t see it as an affront to men that they choose this. I see it as a personal preference for a same-gender private space, which is becoming more and more rare these days. The men’s club is seen as an affront to women, rather than an expression of personal preference. What’s wrong with men hanging out with men? If the club was set up because the men all hate or want to denigrate women, that is pathetic, and in that case we would be dealing with a pack of losers. I don’t think this is the case, (not that it hasn’t been in the past), not in the way they speak, or behave. There’s no place for hatred, but personal choice still needs to be an option. Carry on Augusta! Fight the good fight for your rights!
    PS Check out a google search for women’s clubs and see how many of them there are in the US and Canada too. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I don’t take it as an insult to men.

  • Your view has been repeated many times over the decades, Frankster, and it’s certainly held the day so far. The point of the commentary is strategic: If the people who take moral issue with this view want to win their battle, they must convince fans, players, tour and sponsors rather than doing battle directly with the club.

    My own reading, beyond what I wrote in the column, is that those who are offended by Augusta’s policy unanimously agree the club has a legal right to discriminate, and that everyone has the right to associate with whom they please. But just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you have the right to be condoned, and pro golf is seen to be condoning Augusta by sanctioning its tournament.

    Much of the battle for public opinion boils down to what we think of Augusta’s motivations. Nobody questions your motivations for organizing a golf trip with your pals. (Frankly, your wife would probably question your motivations if you went with a bunch of women.) Nobody questions the motivations for a women-only health club because it’s taken for granted that women face male harassment in a mixed environment. But a certain number of people don’t trust Augusta’s motivations for excluding women. Maybe if AGNC and the historic golf establishment have a history of discrimination against blacks, Jews, women and a slew of other people, this would be less of an issue.

  • Is there a woman’s only club with national notoriety and prestige of say the Masters that men want to join? Off the top of my head, I cannot think of one but if there was, something tells me that all the vocal men who support the position of Augusta National on this issue would have a different take on Augusta’s gender discrimination policy.

  • Trying to pressure Augusta National GC is useless. As a private club, they have rights to choose whatever they want and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    With today’s insistence of corporate transparency and core values, the “You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself” finger should be pointed toward the governing bodies like USGA, R&A, PGA Tour, Golf Canada and all the sponsors like IBM, Exxon, etc. for supporting a private golf club that possesses a discriminating and hypocritical sense of self entitlement, but everyone is chasing the dollars. Hootie denouncing Tiger’s actions was so presumptuous and the whole golf world has enabled them for decades.

    Golf’s governing bodies and sponsors of the Master recognize Augusta National as a distinguished leader in golf as a private golf club. I don’t quite get that.

    These public organizations hold very high discriminatory principles and practices that are in direct conflict with ANGC’s moral values and they need to care who they associate with. Everyone has turned a blind eye to AGGC for a long time.

    An interesting question might be. Who, if ever, will have the courage to be the first invited player to boycott the Masters because of ANGC culture?

    • Hey Z,
      IF you were invited to play in The Masters would you decline because of their policy??? I didn’t think so.
      Perhaps Tiger will be the first to boycott and we won’t be forced to watch his poor play for hours on end.
      To suggest that ANGC should alter its policy simply because it hosts a tournament I believe to be wrong. IF the policy is wrong for Augusta then logic dictates it must be wrong for ALL clubs, regardless of the activates involved. If the sponsors of The Masters are ‘troubled’ by the policy, then they can stop sponsoring. I’m sure there are companies lined up to replace them.
      The larger issue for me is the ‘annual grandstanding’ by mouth pieces like Martha Burke (and journalists) who NEVER address the issue except for 4 days in April (when the world is watching). I’m willing to bet we do not here about this again until next April and then we will hear the same lame arguments from the same people.
      If you don’t like the policy don’t watch the event (and don’t support the sponsors). Use you economic footprint to do your talking.
      I for one will support Augusta’s right, and all those other private clubs who limit access to those they WANT in the club. I will watch The Masters regardless and, if the sponsors all leave, I will purchase it through pay-TV.
      PS- There is a member of the US Supreme Court that belongs to a club that is gender specific-and it’s not all male. There is also an ALL ladies golf club in Canada and NO ONE is questioning THEIR rights to set THEIR policy for THEIR club.

  • @J:

    The distinguishing issue for the Masters is that ANGC accept monies from sponsors and participants gain PGA tour benefits from participating and winning the tournament. ANGC therefore obtains preferential benefits from the public at large (through businesses that have broad media consumer stakeholders)….and therefore has a responsibility and accountability to the public. Gender based policies are not consistent with this responsibility.

    In my view, if ANGC wants to continue with their policy, then they need to have no sponsors and remove all PGA tour benefits from participation. Then, they can do what they want with their tournament and club. Until then, ANGC is “sucking and blowing” at the same time while giving the middle finger to all those that rightfully question their policy.

  • J,
    That is why I posed the question, “who will be the first player to have the courage to decline the invitation?” In 1993, I gladly accepted the invitation. But time does change thinking.
    As I mentioned, as a private club ANGC has the right to make any rules they want and I support those rights for any private club.
    Having said that, hypocritical pretentiousness is in full flight when AGNC takes a ‘holier-than-thou’ approach to moral standards (re: public criticism of Tiger’s actions) and then they play the private golf club card when questioned about their own actions.
    Weekend Enthusiast nailed it with the “sucking & blowing analogy and claim. It is estimated that this private golf club earns approximately $75M annually in revenue from the public. They own golf’s greatest product and have every right earn that money. But if you’re going to exploit the public you need to answer the public’s questions. If ANGC wants to be an industry leaders then they need to act responsibly. Cypress Point and Butler National took the correct path when the PGA Tour imposed their principles & practices on them. ANGC is acting in the same way that Tiger did that got him into trouble.
    I am not suggesting ANGC alter their policies at all nor am I say they are wrong. The problem I have is with the governing bodies, the protectors of the game, that hold a private golf club in exalted importance…. a private golf club that openly contradicts the principles and practices of the industry leaders of the game.
    No one person or one club is bigger than the game.

  • Z,
    I do agree with you that AGNC errored in their criticism of Mr. Woods however, that act, or their membership policy, does not make them ‘hypocritically pretentious’. The issues are VERY different. Mr. Woods’ is a morality issue and restrictive membership is a public policy issue. I really do not understand, or agree with, either reference to Tiger.
    Secondly, no one was ‘exploited’ by AGNC. (That word is a real stretch). Each and every patron, and viewer, decided on their own to support the event by paying for badges or tuning in to watch.
    Also, AGNC have answered the membership question each and every time it is asked. What is clear is that some do not like their answer.
    With respect to your comment on the other two clubs; had Cypress and Butler ‘owned’ a major, it’s safe to say neither would ‘adjusted’. In Butler National’s case, the members decided to keep their policy and let the Western Open go. No harm, no foul. BNGC is still one of the great clubs in the US.
    If the PGA thought for one second they could leverage a policy change from AGNC they would move. The fact is it’s an extremely important event and it is a major.
    I do agree that no one person or one club is bigger than the game however, I don’t believe that is what AGNC is trying to say or do. I have never had the impression from their many replays to the same question.
    The solution is simple. The final decision lies with each golf fan/patron, Master’s sponsor, TV network (and their announcers)and, the players. If an individual is that fussed over the issue they don’t have to advertise, don’t have to watch, don’t have to broadcast and don’t have to play. No dollars-No event-No Issue.

  • J,
    My reference to using”hypocritical & pretentious” is not based on ANGC’s membership policies. ANGC is hypocritical and pretentious based on their actions and benefits recieved from the public along with their Chairman chastising Tiger Woods for his discretions in one hand and then playing the private card to questions in the other. This action does prove the point of “sucking & blowing.”

    My intention to use Exploit: a notable deed, in the case of the Masters, a notable deed in having created a remarkable major championship with enormous earnings from the public. Good on them, as I said it’s the best product in golf and agree that everyone has a choice to watch or not.
    AGNC chooses to dismiss the answers to the question, which is not an answer at all.

    Both Butler National and Cypress Point decided to keep their policies and turn away from the PGA Tour. Their choice, it must to have been worth it for them based on their principles and practices. But there’s no “sucking & blowing” in their case. They chose to walk away. No big deal. You’re probably right about them following suit if they owned a major, that is speculative, but they would at least have to look themselves in the mirror before deciding to “suck & blow.” Everyone has to face this decsition and decide what you want to stand for.

    You’re bang-on that if the PGA Tour could leverage ANGA they would move on them in a second. Yes, the Masters is an extremely important event in the world. But as such, does that make it acceptable to overlook their discretions? Sound like we’ve seen this movie before…. special entitlement to those who are perceived to be superior.

    There is no doubting the way of the golf world is to chase the demand for everything Augusta National, which is on a massive scale … everyone will make their own decisions and we will all watch this great event. The course of action that you mentioned will unfold like you said… But I wouldn’t call it a solution at all. Unfortunately, I would call it the way it is.

  • @Z:

    Do you not think that the PGA has more clout over ANGC than people think. If they choose to take somewhat radical action, they could withdraw the perks granted for participating and performing at the Masters (ranking points, exemptions for the winner etc). And if they felt the issue sufficiently significant, they could discourage participation by penalizing those that participated in the Masters. Of course, this would be an all out war on the Masters which the PGA does not want to engage but they do have the power…they simply choose to not use it.

    And I have to believe that they could exert pressure on sponsors and players in other means to change their participation levels in the Masters. Again, it would be a war declaration. But when you have an entity that is acting like a bully, direct confrontation and “punches” are the way to deal with them. You classify ANGC’s behaviour as entitled, I would classify it as acting like a bully.

    As for consumers not watching the Masters, that requires leadership to corral the masses to enlighten them to consider changing their behaviour. Martha Burke was not the leadership candidate for this role (and I certainly am NOT endorsing her approach or past behaviour) but there are others out there who could provide a path for consumers to understand the impact of their actions by watching the Masters. The question is does anyone have the interest, fortitude, resources, and commitment to make it happen? Without the leadership, change is problematic.

    Like many, I enjoy the Masters and will likely continue to watch it (as I have seen every Masters since 1986). If, however, it was clear there was an opportunity to have an impact on ANGC and change their gender based policies by not watching the Masters, I would likely join in. I have to believe there are many out there like me but there is need for someone to corral this latent intent.

  • Weekend,
    The PGA Tour has tremendous clout but Tim Finchem is a very smart person who would never walk into a street fight. Finchem never likes to take radical action. He`s very calculating and doesn`t do risk. I recall how well he dismantled the start-up of a players’ union by pulling a few `players strings`… he`s a brilliant strategist.

    Finchem has the perfect gig and rocking the boat is not his style. He`s the only commissioner that doesn’t have to deal with a union because this isn’t one. There`s no stronger profile to align with corporate America than with PGA Tour professionals. He makes about $6M per year. The Tour has learned how to deal without Tiger, but benefit greatly when Tiger performs. The Tour doesn’t have to deal with players as employees because they are all independent contractors. There are problems that come with players being independent contractors as most players care only about their personal best interest and not the interest of the PGA Tour. Finchem can`t force players to play specific events so he won`t go there.

    In the case of the Masters, Tour players would not be happy if Finchem took a stand against ANGC. Finchem is very careful what battles he takes on, he`d never go face to face with ANGC and wouldn`t go down any one for that matter if he knew he couldn`t win it. The best Finchem could do is take a soft boycott approach and not attend the Master and adopt a form of a philosophical embargo until ANGC aligns in principles & practices of the games governing bodies (USGA, R&A, PGA, LPGA, PGA Tour).

    If an association is going to have principles & practice standards, they need to stand behind them. Roy Spencer wrote a great book, “It’s Not What You Sell, It`s What You Stand For.”

    There doesn`t need to be any act of war taken against ANGC… just stop pretending that nothings wrong and holding ANGA in divine status outside the Masters.

  • Thanks @Zokol. I understand the realities of the PGA tour and Tim Finchem. I have not doubt that Tim F. looks after Tim F. first and foremost. If Tim F. believes that ANGC is taking an inappropriate stance (and I do not know Tim F.’s position on the gender membership issue at ANGC), then it is a sad commentary that he does not take a leadership role in influencing the views of his membership.

    Too many leaders follow the route you outlined above “He`s very calculating and doesn`t do risk”. Sometimes doing the right thing requires leaders to take on risk. If I was making $6M a year and in Tim F’s role, I would hope that the money cushion would free me of some shackles to take on risk and do the right thing. Then again, not sure that my mentality follows the norm of corporate leaders such as Tim F.

    The reality is if it is not someone like Tim F. to take a stand and influence change, then who is it? It likely falls to leaders such as Martha Burke, whose approach and mentality is not what is needed to effect change in the golf environment.

    As you say in quoting Roy Spencer’s book “It’s what you stand for”. It seems apparent what Tim F. stands for….and it appears to be either money, prestige, or a shared belief of those values promoted by the ANGC.

  • Weekend,
    I wish the PGA Tour stood for more for the game rather than just growing purses in the Tiger era. I don’t think the PGA Tour takes the stance that it should in the game. The PGA Tour had a chance to really impact and protect the its integrity when it fell in lined with the USGA and R&A in banning “square grooves” back in the early 90s. The USGA and R&A, the real protectors of the game, capitulated on the court house steps which allowed the manufacturer to neuter their authority. It set precedence for manufacturers to have their way with technology in golf. When the USGA and R&A walked away from their responsibilities, the PGA Tour ssttled on the court house steps shorly after that. The PGA Tour’s Chairman of the Policy Board then (Dick Ferris) wasn’t happy, he alone didn’t want to settle, he wanted to fight for the Tour’s rights. But the PGA Tour said it wasn’t their fight and folded their tent.

    Unfortunately, the PGA Tour’s leader stands only for the interest of the PGA Tour. It’s hard to argue against it, but wish he did more…. JFK had a great saying once.

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