Three weeks ago, Augusta National Golf Club chair William “Hootie” Johnson publicly announced that the club has no plans to change its men-only membership policy and that it may be several years before a woman is invited to join.
He unabashedly insisted there is no timeframe for altering the membership policy founded on the premise of “friends, getting together and playing golf, and just...being men.”
This was the first time Johnson spoke in public since the issue first arose in June, when Martha Burk, executive director of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), sent a private letter to Johnson insisting that women be allowed to join the all-male club. Rather than addressing the issue confidentially, Johnson brought his case to the public, asserting that his golf club would not be “bullied, threatened, or intimidated” into admitting women.
This protracted argument only shows that America has not come as far as some people would like to think. Almost a dozen private golf clubs in the United States do not allow women to become members. While this number may seem trivial given the existence of over thousands of golf clubs across the country, it becomes significant when three of the top five courses in the country are members of this prejudiced dozen. And it becomes extremely important when one of these is not only among the top rated courses, but is also the home to one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world: the Masters.
In refusing to be “bullied,” Johnson has gone to great lengths to eliminate all means by which the NCWO could pressure Augusta, including canceling all corporate sponsorship for next year’s Masters telecast. As a result, Augusta will be sacrificing $18 million in advertising revenues, a price that the club is willing to pay for its right to discriminate.
It is appalling that Johnson would rather lose millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships than allow a woman into his exclusive club. It is even worse when there is no justifiable reason for the discriminatory policy. Johnson may insist that Augusta, as a private organization, has no obligation to allow female members. But that private-club excuse only works for 51 weeks a year. In the 52nd week, when hosting the Masters, the club becomes the very public face of golf. Augusta then has a responsibility to act in an appropriate public manner, which means it cannot discriminate against half of the population without just cause.
Johnson’s actions show just how desperately Augusta wishes to preserve its private, sexist ways. It certainly would be easier to simply allow women into the club. After all, there is nothing inherently male about golf or a golf country club. In fact, women represent nearly a quarter of the golf-playing population and for over 50 years women have competed professionally on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.
The NCWO has now urged CBS, the television network that will broadcast next year’s Masters Tournament, to drop its coverage in protest of Augusta’s refusal to admit a female member. Unfortunately, CBS continues to persist in its support of Augusta. For that reason, when the Masters is aired in April, men and women alike should take action, grab their remote controls and change the channel.