Famed Golf Course Pressured to Allow Women

ByABC News
September 20, 2002, 3:21 PM

Sept. 20 -- The Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, is where the movers and shakers of business and politics belong, but only, it seems, if they are men.

For decades, women have been trying to gain equal access around the country to private clubs like Augusta in Georgia. A lot of business is conducted at these courses, not only on the fairways, but at the clubhouses and bars.

So in June, Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, sent a letter to the chairman of Augusta National, William "Hootie" Johnson, urging him to invite a woman to join.

The response from Johnson who once served as co-chairman of a committee to develop a plan to desegregate South Carolina colleges made it clear that Augusta National was a private club and would be not be bullied.

"There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet," Johnson wrote back.

Officials at Augusta National refused to be interviewed on camera. But some believe Augusta had been on the verge of admitting women, before abruptly changing course when Burk's letter arrived.

Augusta National says that while women cannot become members, it does allow the wives and other female associates of club members to play on its course as guests. However, ABCNEWS was unable to confirm whether that those women are subject to restrictions.

Growing Controversy

Burk says it's important for women to be allowed to join, not just tag along as a man's guest.

"This just reminds women of all the ways they still feel second class," she said.

After Burk contacted three of the Masters' advertisers Coca-Cola, IBM and Citigroup Johnson unexpectedly announced the 2003 Tournament would be broadcast commercial free. That meant Augusta would lose up to $7 million.

"I can't think of another time when sponsors were in effect fired," said Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report, which monitors corporate underwriting of public events. "Augusta has announced it is willing to pay millions of dollars to continue to discriminate against women."