The tentacles of the golf story that dominated 2002 reached from Augusta, Ga., to Washington on Dec. 9 when the White House announced that Treasury Secretary nominee John W. Snow intended to resign his membership in the Augusta National Golf Club.
Thirteen days earlier, former CBS TV chairman Thomas H. Wyman had become the first Augusta member to quit in protest of the club’s exclusionary practices. And in between, The New York Times found itself embroiled in a censorship controversy when two staff-written opinion columns were withheld from publication because they were at odds with the paper’s editorial position on Augusta.
Four days after the New York Daily News reported that the columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton had been “spiked,” The Times relented and published the columns Dec. 8.
Association with the embattled club, which has been under fire for its all-male membership since early July, clearly was a liability for Snow, who must be confirmed by the Senate. Snow is chairman of the transportation and railroad conglomerate CSX.
The morning of Dec. 9, before President Bush’s announcement of Snow’s nomination, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that such a club membership would not be a “disqualification” for a nominee. Three hours later, Fleischer announced that Snow would be leaving the club. But, he added: “The president does not judge that to be a disqualifying factor.”
Augusta National spokesman Glenn Greenspan said the club would have no comment. But Snow’s decision was gratifying to Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, which has been leading the fight against Augusta National.
“Mr. Snow has done exactly what he should do,” said Burk. “No one in the public eye . . . should be willing to be identified with sex discrimination. I think he’s done exactly the right thing.”
Wyman resigned from Augusta National after 25 years, calling the club’s stand on female members “pigheaded” and saying up to a quarter of its 300 members feel the same way he does.
“We are disappointed that Mr. Wyman has chosen to publicize a private matter,” said Greenspan. “While we respect the fact that there are differences of opinion on this issue, we intend to stand firm behind our right to make what are both appropriate and private membership choices.”
Wyman, 72, told The Times: “I am not anxious to make this personal, but (Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson) keeps writing that there has not been a single case of protest in the membership.
“And he absolutely believes this will all go away. It will not go away and it should not. I know there is a large number of members, at least 50 to 75, who believe it is inevitable that there will be and should be a woman member.”
Wyman also questioned why influential members Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have remained silent on the issue, and why CBS hasn’t lent its support to the NCWO’s cause.
Wyman’s resignation came on the heels of the Times’ Nov. 18 editorial that called for the “more enlightened members of the club, CBS Sports, which televises the Masters, and the players, especially Tiger Woods,” to protest Augusta National’s stance.
Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, then penned his opinion that it was unfair and unrealistic for Woods to be held accountable for Augusta National’s actions. Araton wrote that women would be better served if Burk and the NCWO were to focus their efforts on combating challenges to the gender equity law commonly known as Title IX.
– Wire services contributed