Will Augusta National finally be forced to invite a woman?

Masters adheres to traditions. But Billy Payne, club may have to change one. (Curtis Compton)

Masters adheres to traditions. But Billy Payne, club may have to change one. (Curtis Compton)

The mild winter ensures full blooms on the azaleas. Five different winners in the last five years eliminates any hint of predictability. Tiger Woods’ first tour win in 2½ years last week teases us into believing golf’s preeminent figure can return to dominance and provide some red-shirt drama on Sunday.

Welcome to the perfect backdrop for next week’s Masters, bliss for the Lords of Augusta National.

Well, except this: That women issue.

If it had never quite died, it at least had gone dormant, like Bermuda fairways. But the question of whether Augusta National will finally open the doors to female members  — even if “at the point of a bayonet,” to reprise the charges of former chairman William “Hootie” Johnson – is bigger now than ever before. Even bigger than when Martha Burk first sent her little letter to Johnson nearly 10 years ago asking about the club’s exclusionary policies, sparking a very public and ugly debate, from break rooms to board rooms.

In January, IBM, which is one of the Masters’ major sponsors and runs the tournament’s website and the technology in the media center, named its new CEO: She’s a she.

Rometty's predecessors were Augusta National members.

Rometty's predecessors all were Augusta National members. (Bloomberg photo)

Virginia “Ginni” Rometty is the ninth CEO in the company’s history but the first female. The previous eight previous CEOs all were extended memberships by Augusta National. The three former CEOs still living remain members, as are the CEOs of the Masters’ other two major sponsors, AT&T and ExxonMobil.

“They’ve got themselves into a quandary, and deservedly so,” said Burk, who organized protests outside of Augusta National’s gates in 2003. She now aids women in corporations who believe they have been victims of sex discrimination. “They need to come into the 21st century. I said it nine years ago and I’ll say it now: They have a Neanderthal attitude, and that doesn’t reflect well on the club or the membership.”

Your move, Billy.

Steve Ethun, Augusta National spokesman, said the club and chairman Billy Payne would have “no comment

Burk doesn't believe Billy Payne will act different than Hootie Johnson did. (AP photo)

Burk doesn't think Billy Payne will respond different than Hootie Johnson. (AP)

or statement” on the situation, which has drawn media attention this week from Bloomberg, Yahoo, ESPN and the New York Times. The response is no surprise. The club generally doesn’t discuss membership policies or much beyond pin placement or the length of the rough.

If Payne is asked about it Wednesday during his annual state-of-the-sod-and-azalea address, his answer likely will be brief and unrevealing.

This is the true Masters’ tradition like no other: One man speaks for the club, and it’s his job to respond with an extended digit, albeit with a well-manicured nail.

My position on this hasn’t changed. Augusta National is a private club, so the club technically is correct when it states it has the right to exclude anybody it desires. But the Masters is the most public of events. It’s on public television. The relative great unwashed can purchase admission (even if tournament badges are difficult to come be).

These aren’t old guys wearing their “Loyal Order of Moose” hats, yukking it up and telling old stories about Jayne Mansfield. (Well, they might be, but that’s not the point.)

Johnson once likened Augusta National’s policies to “sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts.” The flaw in that analogy: There’s no yin to Augusta’s and the Masters’ yang.

Payne has been progressive in many ways since taking over for Johnson in 2006. He has expanded television coverage, instituted a junior patron program, sanctioned a Masters video game, even developing an iPhone app with live video streams.

But there has been no movement on women members. Payne has never said “never,” but his actions now will reveal everything. He can’t leave the door open and then do nothing because, in the case of Rometty, it would be setting precedent.

Burk said Rometty (who has declined comment through a spokesman), “has the power in the company to exert influence if she so desires.”

But she’s not sure Payne really cares.

“I’m certain part of the deal when he became chairman was he would adhere to Hootie Johnson’s policies,” she said. “He’s no better or morally responsible than Johnson was.”

We’ll know soon enough. But it really makes no sense for Payne to put this off any longer. This much is certain: Even if the issue goes dormant, it’s never going away.

By Jeff Schultz

266 comments Add your comment

rivercard

March 29th, 2012
3:20 pm

Would someone please give Burk a lifetime supply of Replens and ask her to kindly disappear. Find another windmill to tilt at.

Billy

March 29th, 2012
3:24 pm

Once again, it’s a private club. Now go iron my shirt!

PMC

March 29th, 2012
3:24 pm

Given that it’s a completely private club that only really has one public event per year that gives millions and millions of dollars to charity and is a boon to the local economy……

why does anyone even care?

PMC

March 29th, 2012
3:26 pm

Hundreds of thousands of women come to the Masters and lots of them play there regularly.

This is the biggest non issue in history.

harold

March 29th, 2012
3:29 pm

Women cannot be equal to men in professional sports. Think of them in the boxing ring or on the football field. Not my daughters.

David Granger

March 29th, 2012
3:31 pm

Billy Payne has proven that he doesn’t mind doing things differently than they have done them in the past. But Martha Burk needs to keep her damn mouth shut. The biggest factor that could prevent the Augusta National from extending an ex-officio membership to a woman is if they think Martha Burk will start crowing about how she “won” the battle.

Pongo

March 29th, 2012
3:31 pm

IBM also developed the iPad app and Android app too, with live video, sweet! Would love to see Ginny in a Green Jacket! Will we?

Carnac

March 29th, 2012
3:31 pm

There is only one and ONLY one answer: It is a FREAKING PRIVATE CLUB and they can invite whoever they want to invite to be members. They do not need sponsors and I am sure they pay IBM handsomely (no pun) and if IBM does not want the business I am sure the Augusta National club can find some computer geek (insert Tech grad) to run their website.

Simple answer....NO

March 29th, 2012
3:37 pm

The nice lady at IBM will understand.
Go make your own private club.

Abnerish

March 29th, 2012
3:38 pm

There’s nothing wrong with a Men’s only private club. Just as there is nothing wrong with a Women’s only private club. I doubt anything will change about this and I doubt the new IBM CEO will make much of a stink about it. Anyone who has been married should be able to understand the concept of a Men’s club. Interesting conundrum for Payne and the boys, however.

Simple answer....NO

March 29th, 2012
3:39 pm

She can play as a guest….visit as a guest….even shower with a guest, err oops, if she wants I guess.
Guests are treated very well.

George Stein

March 29th, 2012
3:39 pm

There isn’t a yin the the Master’s yang (unless you count the LPGA tour) because there isn’t a market for it.

The bigger issue here is that the supposed discrimination against women has no effect. The only women that might be invited are the elite of the elite, which means they have alternative venues to accomplish whatever happens behind the gates of Augusta National.

Essentially, there is no marginal gain for the women that might stand to acquire membership. Case closed.

ho hum, are they bringing this up again?

March 29th, 2012
3:42 pm

Burke is a jerk.

JB

March 29th, 2012
3:45 pm

Why……………There’s 4 dry cleaners within a mile from there……………………….I’M KIDDING……….

ho hum, are they bringing this up again?

March 29th, 2012
3:47 pm

If IBM chairlady makes it an issue and Augusta tells IBM to scram and take all their business with them…..then that lady aint gonna be CEO at IBM for long. Comprende?

Bryan G.

March 29th, 2012
3:47 pm

It’s an all men’s club. Get over it. This is such a non-story.

ty webb

March 29th, 2012
3:48 pm

It’s on “public television”?

Abnerish

March 29th, 2012
3:48 pm

Burke has already had her 15 minutes of fame, let’s not give her 15 more. She doesn’t deserve it.

JB

March 29th, 2012
3:48 pm

Read the book ” Money, Power and Golf in Augusta” and you’ll find that women were more than welcome in the beginning. It was just in the middle of the night through the back gate.

Hail Munson

March 29th, 2012
3:49 pm

Mr. Schultz, I love your column and find you to generally be hilariously insightful, but I am appalled that you gave Ms. Burk this forumn to name call the members of a private club. That said, I do hope Augusta National and its members extend Ms. Rometty an invitation to join the club. From all that I’ve read about her, she appears to be the perfect candidate to become the first female member at Augusta National.

Time to Woof up Augusta National

March 29th, 2012
3:51 pm

Got rid of that SC Hootie……Hey Billy, I’m a Bulldog. Where’s my membership?

JB

March 29th, 2012
3:53 pm

I would of loved to seen the look on Spurrier’s face when Hootie left the Chairmanship and Billy took over. That ole Gator/Chicken could kiss his chance goodbye.

August National....We make the rules, not you.

March 29th, 2012
3:55 pm

Who cares, as long as they keep the commercials to 5 minutes or less an hour…..Best damn Sporting Event Policy for TV EVER CREATED.

Carnac

March 29th, 2012
3:56 pm

Maybe Obama will get involved and then I can finally file suit against Shapes for not letting me join.

Where are they now?

March 29th, 2012
3:57 pm

Did Hootie take the Blowfish when he left?

Carnac

March 29th, 2012
3:58 pm

Maybe Barac will put the dept of justice on the case and force membership and then I can suit Shapes to let me become a member!

I'm Gumby, Dammit

March 29th, 2012
3:58 pm

Well, if this isn’t the most gall darnedest boys club, I ever done seen!!

You boys need to crawl on up out of the primordial ooze and get a life.

Woof, Woof

March 29th, 2012
3:59 pm

JB, Ever notice Spurrier always looks constipated on the sidelines? Probably same on the golf course.

Michael

March 29th, 2012
3:59 pm

You still don’t get it Jeff. ANGC will never, ever be forced to do anything it doesn’t want to. I’m fully convinced that they would sooner shut the doors and lock everybody out than be strong armed into anything. These men all have the money and power to be able to tell the rest of the world to go F themselves if they don’t like it.

Bosox9

March 29th, 2012
4:01 pm

evil visor

March 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

Think this is what the men talk about at Augusta? hehehehe
We’re men, this is what we do…….hey, who cut the cheese?

Time

March 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

I don’t know what part of “PRIVATE” people don’t get. But it’s a private club. They get to make their own rules. Period, end of story. No amount of liberal PC whining and crying is ever going to change that.

Women have clubs men can’t enter. Don’t see any blowhard media types drumming up controversy about them do you?

Get over it

March 29th, 2012
4:04 pm

Some darn woman will only wind up bringing up some mistake some man made 20 years ago.
No wonder they don’t want a woman as a member.

JB

March 29th, 2012
4:06 pm

Martha Burke ruined it for any woman to get in. And keeping woman out is breaking no laws. But, they are welcome. I was playing there once and a woman’s golf team was on the course.

Joey

March 29th, 2012
4:06 pm

Next thing you know, they’ll want to vote . . .

JB

March 29th, 2012
4:07 pm

Or want to drive…or decide where to go on vacation

Giving you a heart attack yack, yack, yack, yack

March 29th, 2012
4:08 pm

you oughta know by now

Thurston Howell III

March 29th, 2012
4:11 pm

Oh Lovey, get back to the hut and rattle the diamonds I bought you.

lefty fielder

March 29th, 2012
4:11 pm

i don’t know when or even if augusta will ever admit a female member, but you can bet the back 40 that it won’t happen while some battle-ax is calling them out via the media.

Marvin

March 29th, 2012
4:12 pm

Probably a dumb question, but does Ms. Rometty play golf? Isn’t that a prime consideration for membership, gender notwithstanding?

Carnac

March 29th, 2012
4:15 pm

Joey

March 29th, 2012
4:15 pm

Billie should invite all Victoria’s Secret models and former Playmates to become members, and no others. Maybe Burke would be rendered speechless.

For once.

Pongo

March 29th, 2012
4:19 pm

Ms. Rometty plays golf, but is more into scuba with her husband. Read that on Bloomberg this week.

Contractor

March 29th, 2012
4:19 pm

Burk is a true idiot. Now she is relying on the mistreatment of others to fill her pockets and her celebrity appeal to the media. Augusta National has the right to do whatever they want, and when they want within their club. If you want in a club Martha Burk, go ahead and buy you some land, landscape you a golf course, and then invite whomever you want to join, all women if you want, but quit whining and crying about something you will never be apart of. Take your Liberal mindset elsewhere, because Augusta wants nothing to do with it, and people like myself don’t want to see or hear it. Go start a club somewhere else and you can let everyone in the world join, and like at Burger King, you can have it your way.

Mark

March 29th, 2012
4:21 pm

Dan Wetzel at Yahoo and Christine Brennan at USA Today have written about this already today. This issue has been beaten to death.

Carnac

March 29th, 2012
4:22 pm

Martha you didn’t get my collars clean!

Joey

March 29th, 2012
4:24 pm

“Burk is a true idiot. Now she is relying on the mistreatment of others to fill her pockets…”
********************************************
Nice Contractor, but needs a couple of inserts: “…Now she is relying on the alleged mistreatment and real or imagined hurt feelings of others to fill her sizable pockets …”

Contractor

March 29th, 2012
4:29 pm

Like someone previously said, Augusta National marches to its own drum, no one else’s in the world. The money and power that makes up all of its members can’t be ignored. IBM will regret the decision to pull away from their ties with the Masters every day for the rest of tournament’s days. Augusta is the most respected club in the world, and offers the most amazing spectacle in sports, so I highly doubt the new CEO will make a decision to compromise that.

Contractor

March 29th, 2012
4:30 pm

Joey,

Thanks for helping me out there.

Skeezix

March 29th, 2012
4:35 pm

Wasn’t Burke the one who called for a demonstration at Augusta a few years ago and no one, literally on one (except sap reporters of course), showed up. This is such an immaterial non issue that it’s boring. Who cares if Augusta National offers the new IBM CEO a membership or not? It is their business —-can we now talk some baseball?