The times are not changing

LONDON: Augusta National has a new champion and some tweaks to the course, but the 2003 US Masters proved they're not exactly rushing to change things down Magnolia Lane. 

The Masters is comfortably golf's youngest major – the British Open had been running 74 years before Augusta's first edition in 1934 – but is probably more steeped in tradition than the other three put together. 

The course has been continually lengthened over the years to keep pace with improving equipment technology but otherwise the same rules and customs which co-founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones put in place 79 years ago remain. 

Drive through the club gates in America's deep south in Georgia and as a “patron” – never a fan or spectator in Augusta-speak – you go through a time warp. 

Black faces among the elite 300 or so members are still few and very far between and the club is still stubbornly refusing to allow women into its inner sanctum, despite the best efforts of powerful pressure groups. 

Canada's first major winner Mike Weir may have become an honorary member with victory on Sunday but he knows he is no better placed to change Augusta's hidebound ways than the club's meanest cleaner. 

Neither is possibly the most talented man ever to pick up a golf club and already at 27 a three-time winner at Augusta – Tiger Woods. 

Pressed before this year's event on whether women should be admitted, Woods responded: “Oh everyone here knows my opinion. Should they become or should they be members? Yes. 

“But you know I don't really have a vote in how they run this golf course and this club. 

“I think even Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) being (full) members. I don't think they have as much say around here as people think.” 

Dead right – and even Woods's cautious words earned him a terse response from the redoubtable club chairman Hootie Johnson who said: “I won't tell Tiger how to play golf if he doesn't tell us how to run our private club”. 

Johnson used last week's tournament to defend his own position in the women membership debate, insisting that he retains the full support of the club. 

He sidestepped any suggestions that pressure from sponsors could influence the argument by simply releasing his biggest corporate media backers from their commitments to the 2003 tournament. That decision probably cost the club around US$7 million in lost revenues. 

“There's no other major sporting event that has the ability to do what they're doing,” Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report, was quoted as saying in USA Today. – Reuters  

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