AUGUSTA (Georgia): Defending champion Tiger Woods will not be the only focus of attention when the Masters golf tournament gets underway on Thursday.
Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the prestigious event, has come under criticism for excluding women members and Martha Burk (pic), head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, plans to hold a protest during the Masters.
Burk, who wrote to Augusta National club chairman Hootie Johnson last year urging him to admit a woman, says her protest has nothing to do with women playing golf.
“This is about power,” she said during a recent stop in Atlanta.
“If men can keep women from joining clubs such as Augusta National, Burk says, “they can continue to keep us out of the boardrooms, the corporate executive suites and even the better paying blue-collar jobs.”
The club's members, who include executives or directors at American business giants such as Coca-Cola, General Electric and Ford Motor, benefited from women's purchases and women's labour, Burk said.
Her effort has won the support of other rights groups. “Even though Augusta National says it's a private club, it puts on the Masters with a lot of public support and input,” said Janice Mathis, vice president of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
“You can't benefit from public resources in that way and not be held to public standards of accountability,” Mathis said.
So far, the firestorm over the no-women policy has not prompted Augusta National, which opened in 1932 and admitted its first black member in 1990, to change its all-male membership. Speculation had increased that the club might announce a female member before the Masters, professional golf's first major tournament of the year.
But Augusta National spokesman Glenn Greenspan said: “There will be no announcement before or during the Masters. At some point, a woman may become a member but that decision will be made by the membership.”
Burk has even drawn the ire of women golfers in the city. “I feel it's just grandstanding on her part and publicity seeking,” said Elaine Clark Smith, an Augusta consultant who has played on Augusta National's course.
Smith said she had personally asked Burk last month to back off the Augusta campaign and give the golf club time to digest the issue. “She selected Augusta National because it's a high-profile club,” Smith said.
Burk, who said she would keep up the pressure on Augusta National after this year's Masters had finished, has no doubt that the club will eventually admit a female. “The only question is when,” she said. – Reuters