One of the most common arguments people make when advocating for civil rights is, “It’s 2012.” As in: it’s 2012 — we know better now; it’s 2012 — how is this still going on?
This argument doesn’t really work with Augusta National Golf Club, because their policy of not allowing female members was outdated and insane in 2002, 1992, 1982. Yet somehow, Martha Burk’s campaign a decade ago to desegregate Augusta — a campaign so effective that it forced the Masters to run ad-free in 2003 and 2004 — has seen no fundamental change, and the club still lacks a single female member.
The typical refrain from the pro-Augusta camp has always been that Augusta is a private institution; it should be able to do what it wants. And I’m not disagreeing with this. If Augusta powers-that-be want to remain an isolated and archaic bastion of sexism, they should go wild and have fun watching the world become something they can’t, and likely don’t, understand. But anyone who patronizes that institution needs to consider why. And that holds especially true for the PGA Tour.
Of course, the lifeblood of Augusta, the reason the golf community regards it as one of the elite courses in America, is because of the Masters, one of the four annual major golf tournaments. Of the four, the Masters is the only one held every year at the same club, because the Masters organization and Augusta National are one and the same. (The U.S. Open is held by the United States Golf Association, the British Open by the R&A, and the PGA Championship by the PGA.) The Masters has been held at Augusta since 1934; every year, the winner gets an identical green jacket. It’s a wonderful sporting tradition. But in Augusta’s current incarnation, it’s one that regrettably needs to die.
I called the PGA to ask them about their relationship with the club. “Since the masters is not a PGA Tour-sponsored event, we do not have any comment on the membership policies of Augusta National,” an official told me. Sure. But Masters performance counts toward your ranking in the FedEx Cup, which is the PGA Tour’s official championship, and the Masters is an official money event on the PGA Tour. Also, it currently occupies a nice bit of real estate on the Tour’s website:
Pretending that it doesn’t play a substantial part in sustaining the cultural importance of the Masters is complete bullshit. As independent contractors, the players technically have the right to play any tournament they’d like, but a decision by the Tour to disaffiliate itself from the Masters would erase a huge incentive for golfers to show. Calling on the players to boycott is less fair, since a too-small boycott would have no effect other than negatively impacting the crusading golfers’ status and earnings. From a PGA Tour-wide level, though, change could actually be affected.
As these sorts of conversations tend to do, the issue of women at Augusta had vanished until recently. Why did it come back? Because the CEO of IBM is customarily made a member at Augusta, and THE CEO OF IBM IS CURRENTLY A WOMAN, and there’s actually the possibility that they wouldn’t induct her. Facing a boycott from the PGA Tour, Augusta will back down. And if they won’t, there’s no shortage of tournaments that would be delighted to take over the role of fourth major. New traditions form all the time.