In Their Own Words
Statement from Hootie Johnson, Augusta National
"We have been contacted by Martha Burk, Chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO), and strongly urged to radically change our membership. Dr. Burk said this change should take place before the Masters Tournament next spring in order to avoid it becoming "an issue". She suggested that NCWO's leadership "discuss this matter" with us.
We want the American public to be aware of this action right from the beginning. We have advised Dr. Burk that we do not intend to participate in such backroom discussions.
We take our membership very seriously. It is the very fabric of our club. Our members are people who enjoy each other's company and the game of golf. Our membership alone decides our membership - not any outside group with its own agenda.
We are not unmindful of the good work undertaken by Dr. Burk's organization in global human rights, Social Security reform, reproductive health, education, spousal abuse and workplace equity, among others. We are therefore puzzled as to why they have targeted our private golf club.
Dr. Burk's letter incorporates a deadline tied to the Masters and refers to sponsors of the tournament's telecast. These references make it abundantly clear that Augusta National Golf Club is being threatened with a public campaign designed to use economic pressure to achieve a goal of NCWO.
Augusta National and the Masters - while happily entwined - are quite different. One is a private go lf club. The other is a world-class sports event of great public interest. It is insidious to attempt to use one to alter the essence of the other. The essence of a private club is privacy.
Nevertheless, the threatening tone of Dr. Burk's letter signals the probability of a full-scale effort to force Augusta National to yield to NCWO's will.
We expect such a campaign would attempt to depict the members of our club as insensitive bigots and coerce the sponsors of the Masters to disassociate themselves under threat - real or implied - of boycotts and other economic pressures.
We might see "celebrity" interviews and talk show guests discussing the "morality" of private clubs. We could also anticipate op-ed articles and editorials.
There could be attempts at direct contact with board members of sponsoring corporations and inflammatory mailings to stockholders and investment institutions. We might see everything from picketing and boycotts to t-shirts and bumper stickers. On the internet, there could be active chat rooms and email messaging. These are all elements of such campaigns.
We certainly hope none of that happens. However, the message delivered to us was clearly coercive.
We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated.
Obviously, Dr. Burk and her colleagues view themselves as agents of change and feel any organization that has stood the test of time and has strong roots in tradition - and does not fit their profile - needs to be changed.
We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case.
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.
We do not intend to be further distracted by this matter. We will not make additional comments or respond to the taunts and gripes artificially generated by a corporate campaign.
We shall continue our traditions and prepare Augusta National Golf Club to host the Masters as we have since 1934.
With all due respect, we hope Dr. Burk and her colleagues recognize the sanctity of our privacy and continue their good work in a more appropriate arena."
BACKGROUND OF AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB AND THE MASTERS TOURNAMENT
Augusta National was established in 1932 by legendary golfer Bobby Jones as a place where kindred spirits could meet to enjoy the game they love, in privacy. The original members were essentially personal golfing friends of Bobby Jones and the other founders of the Club. The Club functioned in this capacity when it was decided in 1934 to have an invitational golf tournament with specially invited professionals of the day. This invitational tournament, in what was at the time a small Georgia community, became the Masters.
Except during the Masters, Augusta National has not changed from what was envisioned by its original founders - a small, private club for the enjoyment of golf. The Masters, however, has changed. The Masters is one of the four major golf tournaments in the world and traditions surrounding the Masters have become part of the traditions of golf. Augusta National has an obligation to the game of golf. We accept this responsibility and will continue to fulfill it to the best of our ability.
Augusta National, which has less than 300 worldwide members, has no membership restrictions based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin. Our society is changing, and it is only natural that our Club should reflect these changes in contemporary society. We are finding more and more, our existing members' suggestions for new members have broadened to include a varied cross section of this society. We expect this trend to continue.
Augusta National has no timetable for change, as any such timetable would be artificial and unrealistic. We can say, however, that our membership procedures will be administered in accordance with the principles above. We will continue to respect the privacy and the enjoyment of golf for our membership, and we will continue to preserve and protect the traditions of the Masters Tournament, for the good of the game.