Madness at the Master’s

Hootie Johnson must be straight from central casting. The rich, old, Southern white man – a caricature of Boss Hogg meets Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel – said his elite private golf club, which hosts the Master’s “tuh-nuh-mint” this weekend, will allow a female member only when it’s good and ready.

His foil is Martha Burk. As head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, Burk demanded in June that membership to Augusta National Golf Club be opened to women by the tournament’s opening shot. But as the golfers prepare to tee off, it seems certain that will not have happened – and golf’s most prestigious tournament will continue its transformation into a political driving range.

Protests are planned. Antiprotest protests are planned. A lone member of the Ku Klux Klan will rally for racism. Even Jesse Jackson has entered the fray, pointing out the tournament’s namesake harkens back to slavery.

People are asking, “Isn’t there a war going on?”

But seriously, Burk says, this is about discrimination. And she’s right. Augusta is discriminating. By definition it is excluding a particular group from joining the club. But is that such a bad thing?

Johnson doesn’t think so. He says sometimes men wearing plaid pants simply like to play golf with other men wearing plaid pants without any women around. And legally, a private club has the right to select its members – and its wardrobe – as it wishes.

The issue here is ego. Each side is engaging in an arms race of press conferences, legal maneuvers and public relations stunts to make their points. With all the ink and emotion spilled on this story, some critics wonder if the right to play golf with men in plaid pants has really become a pressing issue for American women.

Either way, the golf will go on. Tiger will dazzle. Someone will win a tacky green jacket. And as the golfers take their backswings, we have but one word of instruction: Hush.