In an effort to evade a request from the National Council of Women’s Organizations to eliminate discrimination against women at their exclusive Augusta, Georgia golf club, the host of next year’s Master’s golf tournament has cancelled corporate sponsorship and will instead shoulder the estimated $7 million cost of the national tournament. Hootie Johnson, chairman of Augusta National, announced this weekend that the club will cancel the three sponsors – Citigroup, IBM and Coca-Cola – in order to “protect” the companies from NCWO’s campaign to require the club to admit women members, while in effect shielding the club from any pressures from the three companies to eliminate current discriminatory practices.
In response, Martha Burk, chairwoman of the NCWO, an organization of 160 women’s groups – including the Feminist Majority – with a total membership of close to 6 million, announced that the NCWO would be asking CBS not to air the tournament unless the club agrees to admit women as members. “I think if I were in charge at CBS, I’d take a hard look at how this is going to look to my consuming public,” Burk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m going to be taking to them about airing something that is clearly underwriting discrimination.” If that doesn’t work, Burk plans to appeal to the employers of the club’s 300 members. “There’s only one end to the story,” Burk told the Journal-Constitution. “It doesn’t matter what they do or when they do it; we are always going to be in the picture.”
Beginning in June, Johnson lashed out at the NCWO after Burk sent him a letter that stated: “We know that Augusta National and the sponsors of the Masters do not want to be viewed as entities that tolerate discrimination against any group, including women.” In reply, Johnson wrote in a three-page statement: “Our membership alone decides our membership – not any outside group with its own agenda. The message delivered to us was clearly coerciveÉWe will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated. We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case.”
While the PGA Tour and the US Golf Association have not held tournaments at clubs that have discriminatory membership practices since 1990 when appeals from civil rights organizations caused several corporations to cancel advertising on ABC and ESPN for the PGA Championship that was to be held at an Alabama club that did not admit African-American members – the Masters does not have to comply with these rules because it is not an official PGA event. However, the tournament’s earnings do count toward the Tour’s money standings.