Skip to comments.Some at Augusta National Seek a Compromise
Posted on 09/28/2002 7:08:15 PM PDT by GeneD
The Augusta National Golf Club, one of the bastions of American golf, has been closed all summer, as it traditionally is after playing host to the Masters Tournament in April.
But a bitter dispute over the club's all-male membership has brought unwelcome attention to the members. Embarrassed and embattled, some of Augusta National's 300 or so members now say they plan to seek an internal compromise that would end the club's conflict with a coalition of women's groups.
About a dozen members who were interviewed over the past three weeks said they had been distressed by the confrontational approach taken by the club's chairman, William Johnson. Johnson, who is known as Hootie, harshly rebuked Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, after she wrote him in June urging the club to admit women as members.
Some of the members said they had expressed their concerns to Johnson in private, and others said they had pressed their views with Johnson's allies in the small group that guides the club, which is in Augusta, Ga. All but 20 or so of the club's members, who are among the country's business, financial, political and sports elite, live outside Georgia.
Several members said they intended to seek a face-saving middle ground, one that might mean welcoming one or two women as members either before or shortly after the Masters next April.
Johnson declined repeated requests for an interview. A spokesman for Augusta National said Thursday that the club would also not comment. Johnson, who was born in Augusta, is recovering at home in South Carolina from heart surgery performed in early September.
It is not clear how many members of the club share the faction's point of view or are concerned with the public's opinion of the leadership's stance that it will not be pushed into changing its all-male policy. Some members oppose the admission of women and fervently believe that the club should not succumb to outside pressure.
Burk sought to increase that pressure on Thursday by sending letters to seven high-profile members of Augusta National, four of whom are chief executives, asking them to explain why they belonged to a club that had no women as members.
Her intent appeared to be to highlight the disparity between these members' public roles, in which as corporate leaders they support equal opportunity for the sexes, and their private roles as members of a club that has not accepted a woman.
The loosely knit faction of dissenting Augusta National members could be characterized as an outer circle who live and work outside Georgia and who have communicated with one another as the dispute has escalated. They say they will press their case to the membership when the club reopens in mid-October, perhaps at the annual fall jamboree weekend held at the club.
Behind the Scenes
At Augusta National, where everything from the amount of fertilizer used on the omnipresent azaleas to the manufacturing specifications of the membership's signature green jackets is cloaked in secrecy, members are not permitted to discuss club affairs or policies in public. It is a condition of joining the club, and those who violate the policy risk expulsion.
But a dozen Augusta National members and national golf officials with knowledge of the inner workings of the club agreed to speak about the dispute over club membership, although only on the condition that they not be identified.
These interviews show a strong sentiment among a significant number of members that the club should admit one or more women, especially because the members say they were led to believe that the club was moving in that direction, anyway.
At the same time, many of these members say Augusta National should be allowed to make membership decisions at its own discretion and timetable, even as they acknowledge that the matter has evolved into a messy public conflict.
"We ought to be left to make our own policy," one club member said, "but there is a line painted in the sand now." When asked if Johnson should have been less combative in his response to Burk, the member said: "It didn't work that way, and the world is poorer for it."
Another member said: "Even those among us who agree with the position in principle are puzzled and amazed by the course followed. There has to be another path."
Another member said: "It could have been handled quietly. Now, we need to do something. I need to do something just to get my daughter off my back."
An internal effort to force Johnson or other longtime members who agree with him to reconsider membership policies would face many hurdles and would go against 70 years of history at Augusta National. The club has always been run by an iron-willed chairman with enormous authority; Johnson is the club's fifth chairman. Furthermore, some dissenting members said their impression was that other club leaders were even more defiant than Johnson when it came to standing up to pressure from the women's groups.
The controversy has emboldened the group resisting change, as have the thousands of letters mailed to Augusta National that have expressed support for the club's position. Some of those letters have included bank checks made out as donations to Augusta National, while others have included petitions or cards signed by the memberships of golf clubs nationwide that endorse Augusta National's stand.
It is also apparent that many in the world of golf fear Johnson's power and influence. Last month, when Johnson made an appearance at a golf charity event in Maine attended by some of the sport's highest ranking officials, he was greeted warmly.
"I couldn't believe how many guys were going up to Hootie and saying, `Hang in there,' " a top golf official said. "These same men had come over to me earlier and told me how badly they thought Hootie had bungled the situation. Behind his back they're criticizing him; to his face they were patting him on the back."
Augusta National members who hope to mediate the dispute said they had not decided on a specific compromise proposal to advance, although some suggested that the club could choose to announce a timetable by which it would accept its first woman.
"We want to work within our organization," one member said. "We do have leaders and no one is trying to subvert their roles. You can't operate a private club that way. But there is enough concern to do something to ease the tension over this one membership issue, since we're a club that has women around all the time, anyway.
"Some people are talking about not backing down, but some people are talking about moving on."
A Dispute Escalates
If accompanied by a member, a woman may play the golf course and stay overnight at the club. An estimated 1,000 rounds of golf were played by women at Augusta National last year, including many played by the University of South Carolina women's golf team, whose members were invited to the club by Johnson, a South Carolina graduate.
"Here's a solution that sounds reasonable," Burk said. "They say they have no exclusionary policies, but what if they said they were going to pursue a specific policy of inclusion and they arrived at a timetable for their first woman member? They could appeal to process and say it's going to take time. It should be before 2003, but it doesn't matter so long as they are telling the truth. So long as it doesn't take years. It can't take another 70 years.
"It makes sense that those C.E.O.'s understand process. Frankly, I can't believe these titans of industry are meek mouses when it comes to standing up and speaking to Hootie Johnson."
Burk entered the fray in June, two months after she read published comments by Lloyd Ward, an Augusta National member who is the chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee. During the Masters last spring, Ward told reporters that he had advised the Augusta National leaders to admit a woman and to do so soon. Ward is one of handful of African-American members at Augusta National, which admitted its first black member in 1990.
"I wrote a letter to Hootie," Burk said. "I figured I was helping Lloyd Ward." In her letter, Burk said, she asked Johnson to discuss female membership at the club and urged him to add a woman before the Masters next year.
Johnson responded with a strongly worded three-page statement, saying that Augusta National would not be bullied "at the point of a bayonet."
"We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated," he wrote.
Since then, the dispute has intensified month by month. When Johnson learned that Burk planned to pressure the three sponsors of the Masters Coca-Cola, Citigroup and I.B.M. he announced that he was dropping the sponsors and would hold the tournament and broadcast it without their $5 million in fees.
Burk then approached CBS, which has televised the tournament since 1956, but CBS immediately responded with a statement affirming that it would televise the tournament in 2003.
Burk then said she would turn her attention to Augusta National's members, especially those who hold positions of leadership in top American corporations. On Thursday, she sent out the first of several letters she said she planned to mail. Burk asked the recipients to reconcile their corporate policies, which support diversity and equal opportunity, with their memberships at Augusta National.
The letters were sent to Ward; United States Representative Amo Houghton, Republican of New York; Sam Nunn, a former United States senator from Georgia who is a member of Coca-Cola's board; Sanford I. Weill, the chief executive of Citigroup; Christopher B. Galvin, the chief executive of Motorola; William B. Harrison Jr., the chief executive of J. P. Morgan Chase; and Kenneth Chenault, chairman of American Express.
Houghton, through a spokesman, said he was working within the Augusta National organization and that he believed the club would ultimately admit a woman. Houghton said he had been in contact with the club's leadership on the issue.
Earlier this month, through Coca-Cola, Nunn issued a statement. "As a member, I make my views known through the club's normal procedures, not in the public arena," he said.
Mike Moran, a spokesman for the U.S.O.C., said in an e-mail message that Ward thought "the momentum for change was best served by working within the system and not in full view of the public."
"Therefore," Moran said, "he'd like you to respect his position of advocating progress from within, not for his good, but for the good of others."
Burk said she wanted to know what these executives would do if they were unable to change Augusta National's policy. "If we are being told they are working from within," she said, "then are they prepared to resign if they are not successful?"
Statements of fictional members created by feminazis and reported as fact by the NY Slimes?
This woman is drunk with power. Why in the world should any private company leader resign his position over something like this? Oh, I guess she means resign from the club? Hey, that doesn't make any sense either. I guess in her mind it doesn't have to make sense. She just wants compliance with her demands. Beyond belief.
Tell you what. Become a member and then you can make suggestions that matter.
That's all this is about. The only thing the ornery b/tches in NOW care about is exhibiting their penis envy. The fact that a private club can exercise freedom of association (the first amendment) is completely irrelevant to them. I sure hope the conciliatory quotes in the above story didn't come actual members. Caving in to these feminazis' demands just encourages them.
10-4 on no caving in. The members weren't quoted. Just leftist lies.
Anyone who doesn't agree with the club as it is no doubt has the option of resigning if HE wishes. I'm not reading about any resignations.
Why can't women build they're own private golf club and exclude men? Simple, because it would FAIL.
There are many great female golfers who could kick my butt all around the course, but this will not change the fact that GOLF IS A MENS GAME. Go to any course and you will see men out numbering women 20/1?, 30/1?
But guys are at least nice enough to 'give' the girls those funny little affirmative action 'pink tees'...lol(and you notice these 'pink tees' are ALWAYS virtully unused)