Controversy over IBM’s President leads to both Obama and Romney expressing support for Augusta National to admit women; “dog eats tickets” story draws even greater interest.
With Tiger Woods ending his tournament-win drought two weeks earlier at the Bay Hill Invitational, this year’s Masters tournament already had plenty of golf-focused interest when it began on Thursday, April 5. But golf’s premier event also had more than its usual share of side stories, ranging from the serious to the silly.
The controversy touched off by whether Augusta National Golf Club would extend its tradition of offering admission to the chief executives of primary Masters sponsors, even though one of those sponsors, IBM, is now headed by a woman (http://www.clubandresortbusiness.com/2012/03/29/for-masters-augusta-in-a-bind-over-female-ibm-ceo/), reached the highest political levels as the tournament started. A White House spokesman added to the pressure on the exclusive 80-year-old organization to change its restrictive policies, saying President Obama believes women should be allowed to join the all-male club.
“It is obviously up to the club to decide, but [the President’s] personal opinion is that women should be admitted,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, saying he had spoken to Obama about the issue.
“We are kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything,” Carney added.
At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely challenger in the autumn election, was also asked about the issue. “Of course. I am not a member of Augusta. I don’t know if I would qualify. My golf game is not that good,” Romney said. “[But] If I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen, of course I’d have women.”
The power of The New York Times also came to bear on the issue when its golf writer, Karen Crouse, told the GOLF.com website as the tournament opened that she wouldn’t want to cover the Masters again until Augusta National invites a woman to be a member.
“If it were left to me, which it seldom is in the power structure of writer versus editor, I’d probably not come [to] cover this event again until there is a woman member,” Crouse told the website. “More and more, the lack of a woman member is just a blue elephant in the room.”
But when contacted by The Associated Press about Crouse’s remarks, the Times’ sports editor, Joe Sexton, said her comments were “completely inappropriate, and she has been spoken to.” Crouse then declined further comment.
The Christian Science Monitor then weighed in on the issue by suggesting that “just adding one woman to the membership wouldn’t seem the proper way to open up this male bastion.”
“To do it right,” the Monitor said, “wouldn’t it be better to add a group of women [at once]?
The Monitor then published a list of “a dozen [women] whose personal stature and golfing backgrounds make them logical candidates” that included:
- Hollis Stacy, the LPGA Tour player and Savannah, Ga., native who became the only player to ever win the US Junior Girls Championship three times and who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May.
- Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and “the more athletic spouse,” the Monitor noted, who “has run the Seattle Marathon, climbed to the top of Mount Ranier [and has] gotten her husband interested in playing golf.” There have also been reports, the Monitor noted, that Melinda Gates is interested in getting into the golf apparel business for women, when not keeping tabs on the couple’s $37 billion philanthropic foundation.
- Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State and current political science professor who plays golf about three times a week on Stanford University’s campus course during the summer and also takes lessons in both Palo Alto, Calif., and in Birmingham, Ala., her hometown and the location of the once-segregated Shoal Creek club, where she is now a member.
- Judy Rankin, golf broadcaster (for both men’s and women’s tournaments), former LPGA great and 2002 recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor of the U.S. Golf Association.
- Celine Dion, the French-Canadian pop music superstar ranked by NBC Sports as one of golf’s top celebrity players, and owner of a 36-hole course, Le Mirage, near her home in Montreal.
- Patricia Ann Woertz, Chief Executive Officer of Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness giant. Woertz, ranked the third most powerful woman by Fortune magazine in 2010, is also a serious golfer who reportedly refuses to hit from the women’s tees.
- Diana Murphy, a Georgian and one of just three women on the 15-member executive board of the USGA. The resident of St. Simons Island, Ga. is the Managing Director of Rocksolid Holdings LLA, a private equity firm that specializes in small business and real estate deals.
- Katie Blackburn, who “besides being a golfer,” the Monitor said, “is the perfect person to talk football with the members of Augusta National” because of her capacity as Executive Vice President of the National Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals, where she handles all player contract negotiations. Blackburn played ice hockey at Dartmouth and is the daughter of Mike Brown, the Bengals’ president and grandaughter of Paul Brown, who founded the team and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a one of the sport’s most innovative coaches.
- Nancy Lopez, who cemented her golfing fame as an LPGA newcomer in 1978, when she won five straight tournaments and was named both the tour’s Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. A World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, Lopez is the first woman to receive the Frances Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf. She and her husband, former major-league baseball player Ray Knight, lived for a time in Albany, Ga., where she still hosts the Lopez Golf Classic.
- Sandra Day O’Connor, who made history as the first female Supreme Court Justice when Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1981. Retired since 2006, O’Connor might not play much golf anymore, the Monitor noted, but she knows the game, having taken it up mid-career when she was encouraged to play while visiting friends in Wisconsin. She became a frequent playing partner with Glen Nager, the first Supreme Court clerk she hired who went on to become president of the USGA. “She hits the ball disgustingly straight,” Nager once told the Washington Post. “There was a reason she was the center of the court all those years.”
- Annika Sorenstam, the native of Sweden who has gone from being the top golfer on the LPGA tour to one of the most entrepreneurial individuals in the golf business and is now recognized as a serious golf course developer, with an ANNIKA brand that unifies her foundation, golf academy, financial services company, and website. Sorenstam is this year’s recipient of the Bob Jones Award for exemplary sportsmanship.
- Janet Jones Gretzky, wife of Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s all-time scoring leader and an actress, model, and TV celebrity who has won several pro-am celebrity golf competitions, including the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational. The Gretzkys consider the Country Club of Scottsdale (Ariz.) their home course.
Amid the renewed controversy and questions about membership policies, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne maintained the issue was a club matter and declined to discuss it during his annual pre-tournament news conference, held on April 4. Even when The New York Times’ Crouse pointedly asked Payne what he would say to his granddaughters about the club not having women as members, Payne held firm that he wouldn’t answer questions dealing with the club’s membership.
After Crouse followed up by saying it was a “kitchen-table question, a personal question,” Payne responded, “Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also private.”
In a column published on April 5 in the Times, Crouse criticized Augusta National, saying the club “founded in 1933 on the bedrock of segregation is obviously not so easily rebuilt — or even touched.” Crouse wrote that she was the only woman at the Payne news conference to ask a question and that she held her hand up for 20 minutes before she was called on.
Tournament officials did score points for demonstrating flexibility, and garnered massive publicity, surrounding the story that also surfaced as the tournament began about the plight of Russ Berkman, the Seattle-area resident who won a lottery for four passes to Wednesday’s practice round, only to then discover that his dog had eaten the tickets. After inducing the dog to regurgitate the remains, Berkman recovered about 70 percent of the passes, pieced them back together, took photos of what he had recovered, and presented his “case” to tournament officials, who reprinted his tickets and had them waiting for him when he arrived in Georgia.
Predictably, the story was then picked up by media outlets throughout the world. A Google search for “Dog Eats Masters Tickets” as the tournament began yielded over 34 million results and page upon page of stories about Berkman and his pass-eating pooch.