2003: Augusta can do whatever it wants

By John Steinbreder

A person at the New Year’s Eve party I attended made a comment - well before the Times Square ball had dropped - about how the issue of distaff membership at Augusta National was damaging the game of golf.

I nodded in agreement, adding that the controversy not only is hurting the sport but also is harming American society as a whole. Then, much to that man’s horror, I started to explain why I felt that way. I say horror because he – and some of those around him – were expecting a series of Martha Burk sound bites. But I gave them a different take.

First, I said, no one in this land benefits when an organization is attacked and vilified for doing something completely within its legal and Constitutional rights.

There are no laws forbidding the creation and operation of all-male clubs or associations any more than there are ones banning those that exist only for women. In fact, the Bill of Rights protects the ability of all people to assemble peacefully in such ways, so it is both wrong and arrogant for moralistic bullies to gang up on Augusta.

And speaking of morality, spare me the tear-jerking concerns about how Augusta National discriminates. Women are more than welcome as guests at the club, and anyone who has visited when the Masters is not being played can attest to the significant number of women who are there on a regular basis. These females are treated with the utmost deference and respect – on the golf course, in the dining room and on the range.

That, to me, is not an indication of discrimination (as opposed to male-only clubs that don’t permit people of the opposite sex even to walk on the grounds).

So women aren’t admitted as members at Augusta National. But neither are semiliterate, overly opinionated journalists, and you don’t see me clamoring for a spot on that hallowed roster or protesting some perceived prejudice.

Clubs, as a rule, are confined to certain social and economic groups, and what smells like discrimination to the uninitiated is really just a matter of perfectly acceptable exclusivity.

Augusta National is for wealthy, powerful men who enjoy golf, while the Junior League is for socially conscious, charity-minded women. Look around long enough if you are interested, and you will find a club that is right for you. And if you don’t like private clubs or associations, as is the case with many people in this country, then don’t join. But please, don’t tell me whether it is right for me to belong to one myself.

One of the many arguments made against Augusta National regards its holding of the annual Masters Tournament and the idea that by playing host to such a public event, it should adhere to a different set of standards. But that dog doesn’t hunt. To begin with, the fact that the tournament is a public event has relevance only if the Masters discriminated (beyond not inviting female players), which it doesn’t. And as a friend recently pointed out, insisting that Augusta diversify its membership because it holds a public tournament is as absurd as demanding that the Girl Scouts of America admit boys because they sell cookies door to door.

Perhaps the thing that upsets me most is how accepting some segments of the public seem to be of political blackmail, which is what is happening in this case.

The “Burka Brigade,” led by Burk and her colleagues at the National Council of Women’s Organizations, want Augusta to admit women, and my concern is: What’s next?

Will they come after clubs that don’t have a broad-enough economic base represented in their memberships? Will they demand certain ethnic and religious quotas?

And what good is any of this really going to do? Burk has told me she will drop her campaign if the club admits one female member. She and others argue that it will be an important symbolic move, but in reality it is nothing more than tokenism of the absolute worst kind.

Equally disturbing has been the role of the mainstream media, which has shown once again how out of touch it is with the rest of the country. Over the past five months, for example, I have personally heard only a handful of people truly support the NCWO’s position, while the vast majority seems to side with Augusta National. And a recent readers’ poll in Sports Illustrated found 89 percent backing the club’s position. Yet a good portion of the press, led, of course, by The New York Times, has devoted inordinate amounts of space to the subject, and to the predictably politically correct positions they have taken.

Several media outlets, as well as Burk, also have found it fun to characterize Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson as a red-necked bigot and parody his drawl, as if that has any relevance to the arguments (and would be at all acceptable if it was directed at a demographic group that garners more political sympathy than one made up of 70-year-old white Southern males). That’s really progressive, and so is the Times muzzling two of its columnists when they tried to express positions that ran slightly contrary to those on its editorial pages. The Times went so far as to ask Tiger Woods to boycott the tournament as a form of social protest.

As for censoring its writers, I only wish the Times would follow the lead of this publication, which is allowing me to express a differing view without worrying that such public dissension will crumble the empire. And instead of asking Woods to take a stand, why doesn’t the Gray Lady reject all advertising from companies that either entertain at the Masters or have executives who are Augusta members?

Several times during this battle, editorial pundits have called on outsiders to solve the case. Some want PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to step in, and others have called on that ubiquitous moralizer, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to get involved.

But the only organization that has any business taking care of this subject is Augusta National. And if we don’t like what its members do, we can either watch the tournament this April, or simply turn it off.

That is our right in a free society, as it is Augusta’s to run its golf club within the laws of our land. Those exercises are far less damaging to golf – and to the country – than the ones the politically correct moralists would have us follow.

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