The Masters of Augusta

By Julian Bond

Vol. 24, No. 3-4, 2002 p. 5

Discrimination takes many forms. It may not always be illegal, but it is always wrong.

Prejudice based on race or gender is wrong, whether it occurs at a public university, the work place, or an exclusive private golf club. The golfers who play at such clubs and the members who belong to them condone discrimination by their presence.

In the case of Augusta National Golf Club, the corporations who purchase memberships, the sponsors who supported televising the Masters' Tournament, and the broadcasters now without sponsors--they've been "hooted" away--also endorse and sanction discrimination.

Golf has had a troubled history, despite a black man, Dr. George Grant, having created the foundation upon which it rests; he invented and patented the golf tee in 1899. Two black men, Oscar Bunn and John Shippen, qualified for the U. S. Open in 1896 over the objections of some white players. (Shippen finished fifth.)

A black architect. John Bartholomew, designed many courses where he could not play. In reaction to golf's early whites-only and men-only policies, blacks formed the United Golf Association in 1928--women and whites were welcomed in their tournaments.

In 1943 the Professional Golf Association (PGA) adopted a"Caucasian clause" excluding all non-whites, and exclusion became par for the course. Only recently have blacks been allowed to join exclusive clubs, and then only after threats of nonviolent protests. Thirty years after the enactment of Title IX, giving women equity in college sports, Augusta National Golf Club still refuses to admit women. Notably, while the organization of professional women golfers, the LPGA, has spoken out against Augusta's policies, the all-male PGA maintains a disgraceful silence, even as the first woman has qualified to play in a PGA event.

Equally silent are Augusta members like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Tiger Woods, while expressing the view that Augusta's policies are wrong, has resisted efforts to make him withdraw from 2003's Augusta tournament. Woods has also properly resisted efforts at racially profiling him into a leadership role on this issue.

One can argue whether the fight over admitting already privileged women to an elite private club is worthwhile; alter all, don't most women face much more pressing and immediate problems?

Of course they do, but intolerance has to be rebuffed wherever it appears. Symbols are important too, and the exclusion of women from Augusta sends the message that women are not the equal of men--in the clubhouse or the boardroom.

Couldn't the energy expended on this fight be better used elsewhere?

The only energy spent so far is an exchange of letters between the National Council of Women's Organizations NCWO) and the aptly named "Hootie" Johnson.

The masters of Augusta have much for which to answer. They excluded blacks until public pressure forced change. They still exclude over half of all blacks--women. Public pressure will end this wrong-headed policy, too.

When it does, women and men will have taken an important--if small--step "fore-ward."

Julian Bond is a Distinguished Professor in Residence at American University and a history professor at the University of Virginia. Since 1998, he has been Board Chairman of the NAACP. Bond served as a member of the board of the Southern Regional Council from 1996 to 1998.