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NATIONAL | winter 2002

Only Some Women Bang on the Door to Get on the Green
What pro women say about one club’s all-male policy

Ms. Winter 2002

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Funny thing happened on the way to Augusta National, the Georgia golf club that hosts the Masters. The campaign of the NCWO (National Council of Women’s Organizations), chaired by Martha Burk, to have a woman admitted has everything going for it, from killer publicity to civil rights history. What it doesn’t have is lots of golfers out front.

Golf legend Nancy Lopez made headlines last fall by saying the Augusta policy is just fine: "Men built that club. To tell them they have to have a woman member is like telling them they have to change the color of the paint on their house," implying that the exclusion of women amounts to some kind of decorating choice.

Of course, not all women on the LPGA pro tour share this view. Speaking at the 2002 Solheim Cup, U.S. Open champion Juli Inkster said, "In this day and age, I can't believe we are still fighting for this stuff: racism, or gender equality, or whatever." Meg Mallon, too, had no trouble bringing it down to basics: "My question is: why is it O.K. for a black man to bully his way into Augusta, and it's not O.K. for a black woman?"

Political Cartoon of seperate water fountains for men and women at Augusta
cartoon by Ann Telnaes

Yet, of the few pro women who have talked publicly about Augusta National, most seem more inclined to ask nicely. Superstar Annika Sorenstam, the top paid player in the LPGA, said, "The way I look at it is, Augusta National has their own rules. However, being a woman, and being in this profession, I would love to see a female member." Beth Daniel took Augusta to task for wanting it both ways—private rules and a public event—but said, "I would like to see them admit women; however, I would not like to see them be forced to do it." From Laura Davies: "All I have ever said is if they are looking for their first woman member, I would love to join." Helen Alfredsson concluded, "It's a ridiculous issue, period."

In a Washington Post editorial, sportswriter Sally Jenkins claimed it was entirely possible to be a defender of Title IX and not support female members at Augusta. "There are in fact differences between men and women that don't exist between black and white, she wrote. "Therefore, sexually integrating a club will change the club in a way racial integration won't." She labeled Augusta an anachronism, albeit a sentimental one, down to its pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread.

"It was only in 1990 that the racial barrier was really broken in golf," said Susan Reed, editor-in-chief of Golf for Women magazine, referring to the successful public and corporate pressure mounted against Shoal Creek Golf Club in Birmingham, AL, site of the PGA Championship, to admit a black member. "The gender barrier hasn't been completely taken down, so I think it's an important symbol."

Then why is the pro women's attitude towards Augusta National's no-women stance "pretty please" and not "puh-leeze"? Whatever. The pros can play it cool while the NCWO-- a coalition of 160 organizations representing seven million women unafraid of golf-circuit backlash-- champions the cause.

Separate is one thing, but what about equal?

Some women pros believe there are issues far more important than women at Augusta: “I’m concerned about equal purses for men and women golfers and more TV time for the LPGA,” said Nancy Lopez.

There's certainly a glass—or would that be grass?—ceiling in the world of the putting green. Especially from the looks of the PGA and LPGA season money lists. Of the top 100 pro males this year, more than 6o have already earned more than one million dollars. Get to the women's list, and the number hovers around five.

"You can't achieve the kind of goals Lopez is talking about without being willing to disturb tradition," said NCWO’s Martha Burk- "That's what social change is all about.” -M.V.G.