Should Augusta National host a Women’s Masters?

Dan WetzelColumnist

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jennifer Kupcho outlasted Maria Fassi on Saturday to capture the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. The final round was played on the same historic course where the Masters will begin on Thursday.

It was the first-ever women’s event held here and from the crowds to the competition to the impact near and far, the club has declared it a roaring success.

“We created a platform that not only will increase interest in this important segment of our sport, but in a larger sense, will shine a bright light on the amazing accomplishments of women everywhere,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday.

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Ridley went onto to implore everyone to “introduce women of all ages to the game”, noted how powerful the “emotional response” was to finally having a woman’s competition at the club and mentioned how “so many members have come up to me … to say that they have never been prouder to be a member of Augusta National.” Over the weekend, the club’s Twitter feed compared the players to female pioneers such as Amelia Earhart.

It was a full-throated victory lap for AGNC and one that begged an obvious question.

If growing and honoring women’s golf is such a priority for the club, and hosting a one-day final round helped accomplish that (the first two rounds were held at a different local course), then why not expand this and have a full LPGA event — a Women’s Masters, if you will?

Jennifer Kupcho and Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament Fred Ridley walk to the trophy ceremony after the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (Getty Images)
Jennifer Kupcho and Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament Fred Ridley walk to the trophy ceremony after the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (Getty Images)

Ridley seemed a bit surprised with the question, although the way he was waxing on about how great the women’s amateur was, he shouldn’t have been.

And this is where Augusta National finds itself stuck between its history and its current ambition.

No other club in America is being asked to host both a PGA and LPGA event. It has been done — in 2014, for example, Pinehurst was home to both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open on consecutive weekends. That was one year though, not an annual thing.

Some of this stems from Augusta’s famous resistance to allowing female members, which became an annual controversy until it added two women in 2012 (it still only boasts what’s believed to be a handful of female members).

While a private club should have the right to choose its membership, Augusta National seemed to revel in the opposition its policy created.

“There may be a day when women are invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours, not at the point of a bayonet,” former chairman Hootie Johnson once declared.

One of the tipping points to allowing females entry to the club came at the 2012 Masters when then chairman Billy Payne bragged about Augusta National’s dedication to growing the game only to be reminded that at the same time it was telling half the world’s population that they could never join golf’s most famous club.

The creation of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was a step in amending that, but in many ways, the club is back to square one due to its own words.

It’s one thing to say you are going to be all-male or only host a men’s professional tournament. It’s another to say you cherish celebrating female athletes and drawing more into the sport … while being all-male or only hosting a men’s professional tournament.

No one is calling, say, TPC San Antonio, home to last week’s Valero Texas Open, to also stage an LPGA event.

Would having the likes of Lexi Thompson playing at Augusta National help promote women's golf? (Getty Images)
Would having the likes of Lexi Thompson playing at Augusta National help promote women's golf? (Getty Images)

Augusta invites this on itself, though.

So, should there be a women’s Masters?

Ridley clearly wants no part of it. He kept saying the women’s amateur was a good extension of the club’s ethos of promoting the game via “amateur golf” — that includes its Drive, Chip and Putt youth competition, plus men’s amateur tournaments staged in Asia and Latin America.

Ridley noted that by competing in the final pairing of the women’s amateur, Kupcho and Fassi wound up on the “Today Show” this week and were recognized on the street in Manhattan. He noted that publicity would help the LPGA because both players are turning pro once they finish their collegiate seasons.

Wouldn’t it be even more beneficial to the women’s game to use the club’s considerable spotlight to promote the best female players, aka the pros? Park Sung-hyun taking on Amen Corner? Lexi Thompson attacking the 16th green?

It’s not Augusta National’s job to prop up women’s golf and it is not Augusta National’s obligation to host a women’s Masters. However, as long as it seems intent on doing those things, then this is on the table.

Hosting two events would be a massive strain on any club, but no one has the resources that Augusta National does. There is always fear of having the course torn up from overuse, but a schedule could be worked out. An LPGA event would further limit playing time for members, but no one is going to shed a tear for inconvenienced members of this place.

Obviously nothing is even in the discussion stage at this point and officially the club and its chairman want no part of a women’s professional event.

Except Ridley also kept saying things like, “I’m just so excited about what happened last week” and noting how the event “really showed what women are doing in the world right now” and that he wasn’t prepared for “those emotional, those subjective elements” of having a women’s competition.

Well, if one day with some college kids did all of that, what would a week with the best in the world mean?

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