March 7, 2003
The Masters Tournament takes place one month from now at the fabled Augusta National Golf Club.
Based on recent news, this year’s event has all the potential for a three-ring circus, just outside the tree-lined borders of the famous golf course.
Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, plans a protest march against the private club’s current membership arrangement, because it has no women members.
Augusta’s membership rolls are largely confidential, but are known to include the CEOs of many major business entities throughout the country. The club chairman, Hootie Johnson, has stated that the club may eventually have women members, but that it was unlikely to occur before the tournament.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson also supports Ms. Burk. He announced last fall that his organization would also seek a permit to demonstrate in Augusta during the Masters.
Last week, Augusta National received some decidedly unwelcome news about another group that allegedly supports the club’s position. In an Associated Press report, a man named Joseph J. Harper, self-described “imperial wizard” of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said he also plans to seek a permit to demonstrate in support of the club members’ right to choose their members.
As one might expect, the folks at Augusta National were none too pleased at this news. The AP story quoted club spokesman Glenn Greenspan as follows:
“Anyone who knows anything about Augusta National Golf Club or its members knows this is not something that the club would welcome or encourage.”
By the way, it just so happens that Augusta National has a few African-Americans among its membership, including former United States Olympic Committee member Lloyd Ward.
Therefore, this may be the first time that the KKK plans to march in support of African-Americans.
The irony may be lost on some.
Fortunately for the Cape Region, none of the private country clubs around here face this kind of controversy. Women members are a vital part of Sussex Pines, Rehoboth Beach, Kings Creek, Cripple Creek, and Shawnee.
There are other significant differences between these clubs and Augusta. Even so, all of these clubs also have something in common with the Masters’ hosts.
For example, Shawnee CC’s members include folks with a variety of backgrounds, educational achievements, incomes, races, creeds, and sexual preferences.
I enjoy playing golf at Shawnee. In addition, there are at least three other reasons why I’ve been a member there for the last dozen years: (a) the broad community cross-section that its members represent; (b) the annual membership costs are a remarkable bargain; and (c) it’s about the least pretentious country club I’ve ever experienced.
For example, there are always more pickup trucks in Shawnee’s parking lot than any other type of vehicle. Of course, several of the truck owners can buy and sell those of us who wear ties for our jobs. In any event, no one makes a big deal about what they do off the course.
Shawnee has never had a PGA or LPGA tournament played on its course, and it’s highly unlikely it ever will. On the other hand, it held the state high school golf championship a few years ago, and the club hosts several community-related charitable tournaments throughout the season.
I believe one would be hard-pressed to find a country club that has less in common with Augusta National. The features of other Cape Region clubs vary somewhat from Shawnee, but none can pass themselves off as Augusta-like.
Except in this important respect–Shawnee and the other Cape Region clubs are also private membership clubs. Their members enjoy the same constitutional protections for their freedom of association as the men who belong to Augusta National.
The fact that Augusta National is currently a men-only club is the members’ decision, the members’ privilege, and the members’ right.
The fact that their club sponsors the Masters Tournament doesn’t take anything away from the fundamental rights of those club members to decide who will join them.
It is simply irrelevant.