In Social Intolerance, Augusta National Stands Alone
There were loud pleas from critics of the Masters last week calling for the male chauvinistic membership of the Augusta National Golf Club to move forward a half-century or so and join those of us living in the 21st century.
I disagree with the notion that the green-jacketed and regressive masters of the Masters have only to leap forward a few decades to join in modern society.
Those well known, intolerant bigots who are waging their own war on women must bridge a much greater span of time than a mere half-dozen decades or so, since Augusta National’s men-only membership lives and thinks somewhere in the mid 19th century or even late 18th century. These men may never be able to move forward enough to enjoy the companionship of women, most of whom are much more intelligent and less pompous than any single current or past member of that last of the old plantations.
Oh sure, most of these men have wives and daughters, mothers and sisters. But one wonders just what an Augusta National member says to his wife and daughters when he returns from a weekend of golf there in the Georgia pines. Does he tell them, “Great news. We kept women from joining the club again this week”?
The issue of denying women membership at Augusta National reared its beautiful head for the second time in a decade during the playing of the 76th Masters that ended last Sunday when the self-taught lefty, Bubba Watson, made a spectacular and winning shot off pine straw rough on the second playoff hole.
But Augusta National’s members remained stuck in society’s rough because of their intransigence on the women membership prohibition.
Sure, there are many other men-only golf clubs in the nation. Members of those clubs are equally far behind the times in their social attitudes. But Augusta National stands alone as the leading example of this form of intolerance because of its annual exposure during the Masters.
‘Pinup Boy’ for Bigotry
The Masters is viewed worldwide on television when Augusta National opens its otherwise locked gates for the public to view a popular golf competition on a beautiful green pasture. The world gets to read and learn during that one week in April about the intolerance of the Augusta National members, most of whom are ranking executives of large corporations and other professionals such as lawyers, doctors, university administrators and TV executives.
Augusta National becomes each year the pinup boy for bigotry against women just the way it once was the great example of golf club racism before 1990, when the first African-American man was admitted as a member of the club.
What do women think as they view men golfers, thousands of fans and those crotchety old men and crotchety middle-aged men in green jackets roaming about on a sporting ground where women are treated as if they have some form of the plague?
The women exclusion made front page news during Masters week this year because Virginia Rometty became CEO of IBM last Jan. 1. IBM is one of the three TV sponsors of the Masters Tournament. It has been a long-standing tradition at Augusta National that the CEO of each of the three sponsoring companies is given membership at Augusta National. And, of course, Augusta National and its Masters Tournament are so steeped in “tradition” that the place oozes the stuff.
But what happens when one very ugly tradition conflicts with a rather mundane tradition? Ugliness wins out.
Waging a War on Women
Ms. Rometty has not been admitted to membership at Augusta National. She was seen in the crowd of fans last Sunday during the final day of the Masters. She was not wearing a green jacket. All members must don that coat of distinction while strutting about the grounds during the Masters.
Sam Palmisano, the CEO who immediately preceded Ms. Rometty, is a member of Augusta National, along with the CEOs of AT&T and Exxon-Mobil, the two other television sponsors of the Masters. Although Augusta National never tells who its members are, it is well known that Louis Gertsner, John Akers and John Open, the three CEOs of IBM prior to Palmisano, were also members.
Augusta National seeks out corporate CEOs as members as if they add prestige to this well-known institution of social dinosaurs. No wonder corporate America is waging its horrid war on women as many companies are headed by these Augusta National moguls who built and maintain the glass ceilings. Many of these ultra-conservative 19th century types who are Augusta National members also serve as members of various United States Golf Association committees, including the powerful USGA Executive Committee. Past presidents of the USGA are and have been Augusta National members. The USGA often displays similar traits of pomposity and regression.
Complicit in the Blame
But all of the blame for this anti-women attitude does not belong to Augusta National members. That club’s members would not be able to continue acting in such a childish manner of chauvinism without the complicity of the world’s best golfers who take part in the Masters; the CBS network that has televised the Masters for nearly half a century; and the three sponsoring corporations.
If some of the leading golfers in the world refused to play in the Masters until the club admits women, maybe there would be a change. And all married tour golfers speak of their love of wife and daughters whom they respect so highly. Prove it.
After all, it was in 1990 — when the PGA Tour and its member golfers refused to play at racist, non-integrated clubs —that those clubs, including Augusta National, finally took in African-American members. The PGA Tour could do the same for women.
CBS, of course, utters words during the Masters telecasts as if handed scripts by a dictator. In this case the dictator is Billy Pane, the current chairman of Augusta National and the Masters. It is such dictatorial directions to CBS that force the robot-like announcers to never mention the war on women at the home of the Masters. The result is very poor reporting.
But worst of all is the acceptance of the war on women by the three sponsoring companies.
Neither Ms. Rometty nor any other IBM official uttered a word objecting to the fact that Ms. Rometty was not being made a member of Augusta National Golf Club. They were not going to rock the boat and be honest about what was happening there for the entire world to see.
Ten years ago, Martha Burk, then the chairwoman of NOW (National Organization of Women), failed in her very public demand that Augusta National take in women as members.
Ms. Burk said last week, “IBM is in a bigger bind than the club. The club trashed its own image years ago. IBM is a corporation that ought to care about the brand and ought to care about what people think. And if they’re not careful, they might undermine their new CEO.”
If Ms. Rometty and IBM don’t care about pushing for women’s rights, I would like to recommend Lilly Ledbetter as the first woman member at Augusta National Golf Club. It has to happen sometime, and Billy Pane would love her.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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