Apr
5
2012
Politicians (including Republicans!) campaign for Augusta to admit women
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters

Romney: No question on extending membership to women

No need for Martha Burk to picket and protest outside the gates at Augusta National anymore (not that it was ever really a productive exercise), big-time politicians, including President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney both think women should be granted membership  at the all-male golf club, home of the famed Masters, according to the AP:

 

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama’s “personal opinion is that women should be admitted” to the golf club. Carney said it was “up to the club to decide” but Obama told him he personally thinks women should be welcome.

“We’re kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything,” Carney said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely challenger in the fall, said “of course” he would allow women in “if I could run Augusta.”

“Of course. I am not a member of Augusta. I don’t know if I would qualify. My golf game is not that good,” Romney told reporters as he chatted with supporters after a campaign stop in Pennsylvania. “If I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen, of course I’d have women.”

Obviously, a liberal like our President would want to pollute Augusta’s member pool, but then you’ve got Romney speaking out on the record, too! Now of course he’d be stupid to alienate half the voting population.

Then — thanks to the tip from Geoff Shackelford — you have Calista and Newt Gingrich mocking ANGC on Twitter!

You see, Chairman Bily Payne backed himself in a really bad corner with his State of the Masters address to the media on Wednesday. I mean, it was farcical for him to talk about growing the game and motivating kids to take it up, etc.

I cannot close my remarks today without joining the growing chorus of golf organizations expressing their concerns about the absence of growth in golf and especially among the younger demographic.  We are trying to do our part, as has been evidenced by the significant annual contributions we make to many domestic and international golf organizations.

Several years ago, we created our Junior Patron Program, allowing free admission to the tournament for kids between the ages of 8 and 16.  We continue our efforts to grow the game of golf in Asia in partnership with the R&A and the resulting Asia Pacific Amateur Championship is entering its fourth year and has been a terrific success.

We participated in the creation of an enormously successful award‑winning video game in a continuing attempt to bring young people to the game.  The second edition was just released, and as was the case with the first, all proceeds go to our Masters Tournament Foundation.

Impressive efforts I hope, but not enough.  We can do better.

We all thought he was going to say something like, “I’m pleased to announce that Augusta National Golf Club will open membership to women..blah blah…” Nope.

We can be a better partner with the established golf organizations as they address these critical issues.  To that end, we have appointed a very smart and motivated team of Members who have been given the charge of determining what more we can do:  What ideas might potentially attract kids and other groups of potential golfers to the game; how can these ideas be integrated into the expansive and impressive efforts of the other golf organizations.

The problems are so easy to identify:  Golf is too hard; it takes too long to play; it’s not a team sport; it’s too expensive.  The solution is more difficult.  But we must try.

Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation.  Whether we lead occasionally or follow always, it doesn’t matter; it only matters that we try.

Oh boy, I’m still shocked that it didn’t occur to Chairman Payne what a can of worms he was opening with those statements. It’s tough to “grow the game” when you exclude half the population from joining your club.

I loved the Guardian‘s Lawrence Donegan’s question: “Mr. Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club.  Don’t you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?”

Bingo.

It appears admitting a woman member will happen sooner rather than later as the club is facing quite a bit of scrutiny and political pressure. Like I said, it’s backed itself into a corner that the club will have no choice. But that’s not the strongest argument.  With Ginny Rometty being named CEO at IBM this year, she has “earned” the honor of donning a green coat. The past four CEOs were — all men — were invited to be members because of its relationship as one of the sponsors of the Masters. Augusta prides itself on its longstanding history of tradition, and it’s established a tradition of bestowing membership to the CEO of IBM.

I’m not going to get on my soapbox over this because I find the whole “issue” rather amusing. Please spare me the “women’s health club” argument. That’s completely missing the point. I’m not a fan of male-only golf frat clubs, but they’re private establishments, and men and women have the right to gather themselves. The difference with Augusta is its public presence, particularly having a huge involvement in the First Tee, along with holding a seat on the governing board of the World Ranking. I suggest reading Alan Shipnuck’s column on Tuesday before the Chairman’s presser and also the one he penned after.

Then on Thursday New York Times golf writer Karen Crouse, whom I respect and admire, took it to another level, telling my SI colleague Damon Hack she’d skip the Masters to protest the club’s membership policies. She makes several valid points — and I agree with her on some levels — but I don’t think there’s a need to jump on a soapbox or become a martyr since it’s snowballing in the direction to where we’ll see a woman invited to join ANGC sooner rather than later.

Like I said, when you have the Gingriches poking fun at the club, well, that’s probably not ideal for Augusta, but their little Twitter exchange hit the nail on the head.

 (AP Photo/The Scranton Times-Tribune, Jake Danna Stevens)