Masters Controversy Rages On

Martha Burk is angry. Angry, she says, that in these tight economic times corporate executives are throwing lavish parties at this week's Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.

"Open bars, liquor flowing freely" she says, listing the excesses, "exotic entertainment, private jets."

The CEOs' membership in the elite and expensive Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters tournament, gives them entrée to one of the highest-profile events in sports and access to the most elite golfers in the world.

And Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, is launching a Web site to list just who those CEOs are.

But the executives' excesses are not at the heart of her crusade. She's not trying to put a stop to the perks and parties that come with Augusta National Golf Club membership. She wants to make sure women can have them, too.

"They're shutting women out," says Burk. "This is wrong. It needs to be changed."

The Augusta National Golf Club, like a number of golf clubs in the United States, does not admit women as members.

"Immoral," Burk says, "sex discrimination at the highest level."

Turning to Bad Press

She has been determined, for months, to force the Augusta club to change. But her early efforts backfired when the club's chairman, Hootie Johnson, dug in his heels, saying that while there "may come a time when we include women as members of our club," he wasn't going to let Burk's organization set "the timetable."

So Burk has decided to change tactics — targeting, instead, the corporate executives who pay the dues to join the club. Her aim is to make those executives extremely uncomfortable, by contrasting the expensive parties to facts about layoffs at their companies, tax problems, and outlandish perks — in short: getting them bad press.

What do those corporate troubles have to do with the fact that Augusta won't admit women? Very little. But it is an effective way, she says, of getting the Augusta club to finally listen to her.

It is a lesson she learned from other interest groups.

"Julian Bond of the NAACP sent us a statement of support early on in this campaign and I'll just paraphrase what he said," she said at an Atlanta press conference. "Economic pressure has always been an effective tool of social change. I think the colloquial way to put that is you have to follow the money."

And she concedes that is what this debate comes down to: money. It is not about equal access to the Augusta course for the average female golfer. Women can golf at Augusta. It's just that they — like the majority of men who play the course there — have to do so as guests of the few, highly paid corporate power brokers who have managed to land a membership in the club. And, for now, all of them are men.

Martha Burk believes highly paid corporate women power brokers should have the same opportunity. And that's what this fight is really about — women's ability to do business at the highest corporate level, to have all doors open to them, even the doors to the golf course so they can entertain their high-profile clients at high-profile affairs just like their male counterparts do.

"That's absolutely right. Business is done at the highest corporate level" at clubs like Augusta, she says. "And I believe if a CEO is willing to tolerate a club that shuts out his female counterparts, then he's willing to tolerate a pay gap in his company, probably a glass ceiling, and who knows what else?"

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