2004: Burk takes on new Masters sponsors

Martha Burk has slipped her golf cleats back on.

The head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations wasted no time condemning the move by ExxonMobil, IBM and SBC Communications to sponsor the 2005 Masters Tournament. The Masters has been commercial-free the past two years as Burk has fought host Augusta National Golf Club over its all-male membership.

Burk noted that high-ranking executives of ExxonMobil and SBC are Augusta National members and wondered if the corporations’ decisions to “underwrite an event for an organization that proudly discrimates against women” were made with or without the consultation of the boards of directors.

“I don’t know why they didn’t just add Hooters to the list,” Burk said.

Burk said she was undecided on whether her group would protest at Augusta during Masters week. A federal appeals court ruled in April that Burk should have been allowed to demonstrate outside the club’s gates in 2003. City officials, citing safety, moved her protest to a lot down the street, which Burk said reduced the protest’s effectiveness. The club can still appeal to the Supreme Court.

The tournament dropped IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup as television sponsors before the 2003 Masters to shield them from pressure from Burk. Her group has since targeted eight Wall Street firms she says have members at Augusta National, looking into the corporations’ promotion and compensation records regarding women.

“These (2005) sponsors send a strong signal to female customers, employees and stockholders that gender discrimination is acceptable and that women do not matter,” Burk said. “We know these companies would not sponsor events at clubs that discriminate on the basis of race.

“There should be no lesser standard for gender. SBC, IBM and ExxonMobil have made a mockery of their corporate policies on diversity and on nondiscrimination. It will have a negative shareholder impact. I don’t think the negative publicity will be a good thing.”

Burk cited a Harvard University business school case study that concluded companies not only should not sponsor at a club that discriminates against women, but that anyone recommending such sponsorship should be fired.

ExxonMobil vice president Ken Cohen said his company has a policy “prohibiting discrimination of any kind. . . . We’re pleased to associate ourselves with a globally recognized sporting event.” SBC took a like approach in a statement, calling it a “great opportunity.”

Augusta National announced the three sponsors Aug. 27. As in the past, only four minutes of commercials will air per hour. The club also said the telecasts will be expanded by 90 minutes – 30 minutes for each of the first two rounds on USA Network and an extra 30 minutes for the third round on CBS.

Burk, meanwhile, would neither “confirm nor deny” a published report citing two unnamed sources that some PGA Tour female employees have asked the NCWO to look into the Tour’s employment practices.

“I’m not ready to say anything about that at this point,” she said.

Tour spokesman Bob Combs said he was unaware of any dissatisfaction by Tour female employees or of any contact from Burk’s group. He said “about 40 percent” of Tour employees are women.

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification