Most Americans oppose the Augusta National Golf Club's men-only membership policy, but most also say it's within the private club's rights to exclude women — and the PGA Tour should continue to recognize the club's annual Masters tournament.
Behind these views are deep divisions among groups, ones that potentially could bedevil golf's efforts to appeal to a more diverse audience. Augusta's men-only membership is particularly objectionable to women, young adults and nonwhites, among others.
Also, the number of Americans who describe themselves as fans of the sport is down in this ABCNEWS/ESPN poll, to 16 percent, compared to 24 percent last spring. That could be a seasonal effect, however; it'll take springtime polling for real comparability. (The Masters is played in April, most other major golf tournaments in the summer.)
In all, 54 percent of adults oppose Augusta's membership policy, while 39 percent support it. While men and retirement-aged Americans divide evenly on the policy, women and 18- to 34-year-olds oppose it by about a 2-1 margin, as do nonwhites.
Intensity is greater on the opponents' side: Thirty-seven percent of Americans "strongly" oppose Augusta's policy, compared to 21 percent who "strongly" support it.
Regardless of their opinion of the policy, however, 56 percent say Augusta should have the right to admit only men as members; even a bare majority of women, 51 percent, say so. And 59 percent say the PGA Tour should continue to sanction the Masters.
On Firm Ground with Golf Fans
Augusta is on firmest ground with golf fans: They support its policy by a 20-point margin, while non-fans oppose the policy by 24 points. Fans also are much more apt to say Augusta should have the right to that policy, and to favor continued PGA Tour recognition of the Masters.
As noted, 16 percent of Americans — disproportionately men — describe themselves as fans of the sport, a number that ranged from 24 to 27 percent in four Gallup polls since April 2000. Three of those polls were done in the spring, one in February. (The fan question in this poll was asked apart from questions on the Augusta National issue.)
There also are political and regional divisions on this issue. Democrats oppose Augusta's policy by a huge 67-29 percent, independents by 58-35 percent, but Republicans favor it by 15 points, 54 to 39 percent. (Republicans also are more apt to be golf fans.)
Regionally, six in 10 Northeasterners and Westerners alike oppose Augusta's policy, while opposition declines to about 50 percent in the South and Midwest.
Augusta National's membership policy has been under sharp criticism since last summer, led by Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
This ABCNEWS/ESPN poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 20-24, among a random national sample of 1,042 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Fieldwork was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.
Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.