2004: Newsmakers - Burk won’t return to Augusta

Martha Burk regrets that she did not get arrested for picketing outside the gates of Augusta National last year, but she said Feb. 28 there is no point returning to protest the club’s all-male membership in April.

“Our plans are basically pretty set – we’re not going to do it,” said Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. “There’s no point repeating last year if we’re going to be stuck in a hole.”

Burk had threatened a demonstration on Saturday of the 2003 Masters, but a local ordinance denied her access to the intersection of Washington Road and Magnolia Lane, the private tree-lined drive where players, club members and officials enter the golf club. Burk’s appeal of the ordinance is still before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

Instead, she protested about a half-mile down the road in a grassy lot where there were more media members than protesters.

“As anyone can attest, it didn’t have quite the same impact it would have had if she was right there in front of the entry gates,” Tiger Woods said in a recent interview.

Burk said getting led away in handcuffs might have made a difference.

“If I have any regrets about the situation down there – other than what they did to us, which was outrageous – is that I did not let them arrest me,” Burk said. “At the time, I was making the distinction between discrimination and the First Amendment.”

To have been arrested “could have gotten the story back on the purpose.”

Augusta National has never had a female among its 300 members since it opened in 1933.

“We don’t have a ruling from the court, and even if we got one, there’s not time to get anything together,” Burk said from her home in Washington. “But I’d love to see a few citizens around the gate to make the point that the club cannot abuse people’s rights to free speech.”

It became an issue last year when club chairman Hootie Johnson issued a statement to the media that Augusta National would not be forced to take a female member “at the point of a bayonet.”

Johnson affirmed his position at last year’s Masters.

“If I die right now, our position will not change on the issue,” he said. “I promise you what I’m saying is if I drop dead this second, our position will not change.”

In a statement issued Feb. 28 by Augusta National, Johnson said the membership issues are private and will remain that way.

“The American public clearly supports that right to privacy and regards the criticism of the club last year as not only ridiculous, but tiresome,” Johnson said. “It seems safe to say most people think of this as old news and can’t understand why we are still discussing this.”

Burk said she is resigned to the fact nothing will change until Johnson is no longer chairman. In the meantime, she said the NCWO is still working actively, even though they are not in the news.

“The view one year later is not that we failed, but that we did something important in the big picture,” she said. “The protest was a one-day story, but it was one episode in a much longer movie. I’m quite happy with the progress we’ve made.”

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