Although Martha Burk has vowed she will apply anti-discrimination pressure to the PGA Tour and its commissioner, Tim Finchem, another of her targets in 2003 could be the U.S. Golf Association.
The USGA operates within a rigid hierarchy, so its next president likely will be vice president Fred Ridley, a lawyer in Tampa, Fla. However, Ridley is a member of Augusta National Golf Club, the prime target of Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.
Furthermore, the only other USGA vice president, lawyer Walter Driver Jr. of Atlanta, also is a member of Augusta National. Another member of the powerful USGA executive committee, Jim Reinhart of Mequon, Wis., is an Augusta National member as well.
Burk said it is “absolutely wrong” that the leader of the organization that governs golf in the United States should be a member of a club that excludes women as members.
Burk did not outline any plans to demonstrate against the USGA. A nominating committee will choose the next USGA president and other officers later this year. A perfunctory vote on the one-candidate-per-office slate will come at the end of January, when Reed Mackenzie, the current USGA president, finishes his second one-year term.
Mackenzie, a lawyer from Edina, Minn., showed little hesitation in repudiating Burk.
“As far as we’re concerned, there are no implications (of Augusta membership),” he said. “Either one of them (Ridley or Driver) is qualified to be president of the USGA.”
In recent decades, USGA presidents have served two one-year terms. One of those presidents was Morgan (Buzz) Taylor Jr., who served in 1998 and 1999. Taylor was, and still is, an Augusta National member.
At the time of his presidency, though, membership in the club was not an issue. That has changed.
Despite the fact that Judy Bell served as the first female USGA president in 1996 and 1997, Burk is shining a spotlight on what she considers gender discrimination.
Unrelated to Burk and her campaign, David Fay, USGA executive director since 1989, turned down a membership last year at Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club, often considered the best golf course in the United States and ranked No. 1 on the Golfweek America’s Best Classical Course list.
Pine Valley has no female members and virtually no female guest play.
“How could I explain this to my daughters?” Fay said at the 2002 U.S. Open. “I couldn’t. There are different issues for different people, but in my family we spend a lot of time talking about things like equal opportunity.”
Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion, acknowledged the discrimination issue but declined to speculate on the slate of officers for 2004. Ridley has stressed in the past that all members of the executive committee “care very much about golf for everyone.”
That led Burk to retort, “I have grown suspicious of lip service. The PGA Tour has an anti-discrimination policy that it doesn’t enforce, and Tim Finchem says lots of pleasant little things but does nothing.”
All USGA decisions are made by the 16-member executive committee, and all officers must be members of the executive committee. There are two women currently on the executive committee.