The Masters - Murphy's Law: Augusta inviting women overdue

Augusta's decision to open the gates to two women may be a small gesture, but it's a start, says US golf expert Brian Murphy.

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The Masters - Murphy's Law: Augusta inviting women overdue
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Augusta National clubhouse

Poor Sergio Garcia. On the day he wins in the US for the first time in four years, he finds out Condi Rice got a green jacket before he did.

What a day in golf. Augusta National, as you may have heard 1,000 times by now, admitted the first two female members in its club history. In other news, ANGC is planning on replacing its rotary phones for new-fangled, push-button types.

I covered the 2002 Masters when Martha Burk tried to light a fire under Hootie Johnson and shame him into admitting women members. At the time, I remember writing in the San Francisco Chronicle that, as odious and outdated as Augusta National’s male-only policy might be – especially for a club that casts such a public shadow every April – it was the club’s call, as a private organization, on membership.

Like most people who are late to civil rights parties through the decades – those who cautioned against women’s votes or repealing Jim Crow – I regret not being more forceful in pestering Augusta National to admit a woman. Clearly, when the club announced Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore as members today – first reported by the Associated Press – it felt like society improved, even if just a little.

The old arguments from back then - that adding rich and well-connected women to a rich and well-connected club is hardly the stuff of Rosa Parks – remain true. But the arguments by those who supported the admittance of a woman are truer. It IS an important symbol that a woman who achieves success and, just as important for Augusta National’s place in the game, loves golf, doesn’t find any locked doors in the game.

Martha Burk gets a head-nod here. She went it alone for a good while in 2002, trying and failing to motivate crowds to gather at Augusta National to protest the exclusionary tactics of the green jackets. It took a decade for her wish to come true, and like most pioneers, she had to do a lot of brush-cutting to clear the trail. At times, her voice seemed feckless. Augusta National and the Masters were going to keep holding the Masters, keep logging gangbusters TV ratings, and keep doing things their way.

So when Burk told the AP today, “Oh my God, we won,” the words weren’t hollow. Heck, she deserved the delayed gratification if only for withstanding the embarrassing day back in 2002 outside the gates when her planned protest turned into a Monty Python episode, including Elvis impersonators, a guy holding a sign that read “IRON MY SHIRT” and a self-proclaimed Klansman who wore only a t-shirt and jeans. I will never forget the story of the late, great Boston Herald sportswriter George Kimball, who sized up the Klansman’s gear head-to-toe, and asked: “So . . . you gonna suit up?”

Billy Payne, the club chairman, deserves an ounce of credit here. He’s made mistakes, surely. His bashing of Tiger Woods three years ago was clunky and ham-fisted in its execution, especially since Augusta National was hardly a beacon of tolerance. And his awkward sparring with the media this past spring over the issue again came off as tone-deaf. But he changed, and made the move to invite Rice and Moore. He gets points for that.

Ultimately, will Augusta National’s invitation feed the hungry, build shelter for the homeless or clothe the poor? Hardly. As some have suggested the club remains a distant and exclusionary place, detached from the real world. But even if one little girl who loves golf sees Condi Rice or Darla Moore in her green jacket next spring on TV, and if that helps her think of golf as that much more of an inclusionary game, and grows the game just a little, then the symbolism works.

Meanwhile, Sergio is still wondering how he gets one of those.

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