The Master’s is upon us.
Now I don’t golf.
Golf is, to me, as Oscar Wilde observed about foxhunting, “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”
This attitude toward golf, golfing, and golfers left me ignorant of the game and unprepared for an opportunity that came my way when I was a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Georgia. One bright spring day a student from Augusta who was failing my class offered me two tickets to the Masters – shamelessly trying to influence his grade. Since I knew nothing of the Masters and had no desire to drive a couple of hundred miles to see men knock a little white ball into a hole, I turned him down. Later I learned, to my dismay, that I could have sold the tickets and covered my tuition for the next year.
This did nothing to change my opinion of golf, but it did imprint the Masters on my mind so that every April I turn on the TV to catch a glimpse of the azaleas and the manicured greens. Then I remember this is golf, and I change the channel to something exciting, like “Storage Wars.”
So you can imagine how little attention I was planning to pay and how little I was prepared to care about when a few years ago the Master’s became the center of a rip-roaring controversy that contains in it all the elements of a good old fashioned Southern culture clash.
Here’s how it unfolded.
The National Council of Women’s Organization discovered that the Augusta National Golf Club, the organization that hosts the Master’s, did not admit women to membership. A woman could play as a guest, but not on her own. Outraged at this Martha Burk, chairwoman of NCWO, asked for the policy to be changed. “Hootie” Johnson (gotta love the name), chairman of the Club, said “no.”
Not one to take “no” for an answer, Ms. Burk sent letters to CEOs of major corporations that sponsor the tournament asking them to drop their sponsorship or face a boycott from NCWO members. Hootie responded, “let ‘em. The Masters will go on anyway.”
Ms. Burke and her organization, unable to move Hootie, tried to get CBS to cancel the broadcast. CBS, knowing FOX or ESPN II or maybe the History Channel would move quickly to fill the breach, politely declined.
Meanwhile, Joseph J. Harper, imperial wizard and only member of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, announced he would go to Augusta and protest in support of the Augusta National’s membership policies — apparently oblivious to the fact that the Club’s unwritten “white trash exclusion rule” kept him out as well. When told that Augusta officials would prefer he stayed home, the imperial wizard responded, “we’re not concerned with whether they want us there or not.”
And, of course, neither is Ms. Burke, or the Rev. Jessie Jackson who planned to drop by. Meanwhile local police were wringing their hands because there was not much room for protestors to protest. One wit suggested that if they couldn’t get into Hootie’s they were welcome at Hooters, which was just down the block. The NCWO, I am told, was not amused.
Now let me say that when it comes to equal treatment for women, I take a back seat to no man. Having raised one daughter and in the process of raising another, I will stand foursquare against anything that denies my darlings equal access to something morally uplifting or socially edifying. But having already explained to you what I think of golf, you can see where I stood on this.
But I digress.
Battle lines were drawn.
On one hand you had a bunch of women who didn’t necessarily want to play golf but wanted to hang around with a bunch of men in loud clothes who, according to golf historian Herbert Warren, “stand under the great trees at Augusta National Golf Club on fine spring days” and talk about Bob Jones – not the religious fundamentalist who built that university but the god of golf who built Augusta’s course. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t get worked up about crashing that party.
Others, of course, could, and as the pressure mounted the men of the Augusta National membership committee did what men have historically done when women want something – they caved in.
After a decent interval that allowed passions to cool and the membership committee to hold secret deliberations, it was announced that two women had been invited to join the club.
One, a banker, has a university business school named for her. The other, a former secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
So it was that women were admitted.
Meanwhile the “white trash exclusion rule” remained in force.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Master’s is upon us.