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Teeing Off: Let’s talk about Augusta National’s female issue

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Welcome to a special edition of Teeing Off. This time around, we've invited Cagewriter editor Maggie Hendricks for a frank little discussion about Augusta National and its policies toward a certain segment of the American population. Politics ahead!

Busbee: The first week in April. The azaleas in Augusta, Georgia, are in bloom. Every blade of grass and pine straw is in place at Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters Championship. And if you look only at the grounds and the golfers, everything is perfect. Trouble is, we can't always run through life with blinders on, and Augusta National, more than any other sporting institution, continues to draw fire for its political stances. So, Maggie: Your thoughts on the current "dilemma" Augusta faces: Should it stick with its tradition of admitting the CEOs of its biggest sponsors, or should it (gasp!) break with tradition and admit a woman to its ranks?

Hendricks: A WOMAN? Someone who is supposed to be making babies and dinner playing golf near the sacred azaleas of Augusta? And how can she put on golf cleats when she's supposed to be barefoot and pregnant?* Augusta's "tradition" of sexism is sad and disgusting. The fact that it's revered as a "tradition like no other" is the saddest part. CBS, the PGA and every person who tunes into the Masters plays a part in Augusta's ongoing sexism.

The PGA values a pretty piece of land more than half of the world's population, and that ridiculous stance is coming to bite them in the tush now that IBM has named a woman as its CEO. Virginia Rometty has earned the right to membership, like every other CEO before her, and her anatomy shouldn't stop that.

*Your awesome readers might not know me. That's sarcasm.

Busbee: Damn! Bringing the big guns right from the word go! I like you, Hendricks. Anyway, here's my devil's-advocate rejoinder: private club, private rules. Just because they HAVEN'T admitted a woman doesn't mean they WON'T. (Yes, I know I'm splitting hairs here.) Sure, it's tough to defend some of Augusta's policies and actions – like just last year, when a female reporter was denied entry to the locker room by an overzealous security guard – but is it not their right to do what they want? It's their good fortune that the golf world wants to watch what goes on at their club. How's this different, albeit on a grander and more profitable scale, than a guys' poker night or a ladies' night out?

Hendricks: I am on-board with private club, private rules. If they want to be stuck in 1952 likes Roger Sterling, I am not going to stop them. But then the PGA Tour should not set an event there. CBS should not film the Masters every year. Millions of Americans should not tune in. Every time they do, they are saying, "Yeah, Augusta members are whacked-out, over-privileged sexists who long for a time when Donna Reed knew her place, but Amen Corner is so awesome!"

The second you invite the public into your sacred spot, you are required to abide by the rules and norms of society as it is today. If they want to keep their world private, then they shouldn't get the Masters. You can't have it both ways.

Busbee: But isn't that kind of moral equivocation what we do with all of sport, or even all of entertainment? "Yeah, domestic abuse/assault/drug use is awful, but man! Did you see the hit that guy laid on the quarterback?" I'm not at all condoning an anti-woman stance, but if we take that kind of absolutist stance with Augusta, shouldn't we take it with Yankee Stadium and Soldier Field?

And yes, I know I'm throwing up smoke to divert from the real issue. Augusta drives many in the golf world insane with its, shall we say, "preserved" look at society. I think the club has a real opportunity here to quietly demonstrate that it does recognize the passage of time. Admit Ms. Rometty. Let her in. Women have played the club's course and trod its fabled clubhouse halls; why not let a woman that's as close to the Old Boy Network as she could get without surgery join the club? Somehow, I don't think the ground will split open and swallow the clubhouse ... though I get the sense you might not mind if it did, yes?

Hendricks: No, I love azaleas. And there's a difference between supporting one or two players who are jerks (and sometimes felons) and supporting an entire institution that discriminates.

I would love to see her be admitted and see her treated as no big deal. She should get all of the benefits of membership, including popcorn shrimp with club sauce, so that the members who have held on so tightly to the past see letting a woman wear the green jacket really doesn't change their world one bit.

My high school was an all-boys school for 64 years. I was in the second class that admitted girls. Current students were so angry about letting girls in the door that they wore protest t-shirts and booed girls teams at pep rallies. They were so concerned that females like me would change their hallowed tradition.

Ya know what? We did. We came in and created our own traditions. Within 10 years of admitting girls, Fenwick High School won state championships in girls' basketball, raised ACT scores, regularly sent people to the Ivy League, had people knocking down the door to get in and went through a major expansion funded by alumni and friends.

Opening doors makes places better. I hope the (most likely) good people at Augusta National learn that soon.

Busbee: Bravo. Slow clap.

But I'm still going to Augusta.

All right, your turn. Thoughts on Augusta National and women? Have your say, friends.

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