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Friday, 5 April 2019

Historic triumph for women at Augusta National


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The crowd was modest, but the occasion was anything but. On Thursday morning, American amateur Jennifer Kupcho stood on the first tee at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Georgia, splitting the fairway with her opening shot.

To the uninitiated, it may have seemed like just another golf tournament, but the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Tonight, the field will shatter perhaps the most infamous glass ceiling in golf, with the final round to take place on the revered grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club.

It’s a course that’s been the scene of so many famous images in the history of the sport. From the moment Gene Sarazen put the tournament that would become the US Masters on the map with “the shot heard round the world” in 1935, to the Larry Mize chip-in that broke Australian hearts in 1987, and Adam Scott’s historic putt to claim the country’s first ever green jacket in 2013, Augusta National and the US Masters have been the stage on which so many of the game’s greats have performed.

Jennifer Kupcho.

Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Ballesteros, Faldo, Woods and Spieth have all graced the fairways at Augusta. Crowds flocked to see the best in the world take on one of the most famous courses on the planet.

But there’s always been one big omission.

You won’t find Karrie Webb’s name on any trophy in the clubhouse. Nor Annika Sorenstam, or Nancy Lopez.

Put simply, for much of its history, unless you were a white male, you weren’t welcome at Augusta National.

Sure, a woman could theoretically qualify for the US Masters. But the chances of that happening were somewhere between slim and none.

And as for inviting a woman to join the male-only club? Unheard of.

Between 1932, when Augusta National opened, and 2012, the club didn’t have a single female member.

Matters came to a head in 2002 when Martha Burk, the head of the National Council of Women’s Organisations, began pressuring the club to include women members.

Burk wrote to then-chairman Hootie Johnson, suggesting the club admit female members prior to the 2003 Masters.

“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,” the letter said.

“We urge you to review your policies and practices in this regard, and open your membership to women now, so that this is not an issue when the tournament is staged next year.”

Hootie Johnson with Tiger Woods

Johnson’s reply was quick, public and forceful. He wrote that he expected Burk “would attempt to depict the members of our club as insensitive bigots and coerce the sponsors of the Masters to disassociate themselves under threat — real or implied — of boycotts and other economic pressures.”

“There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership,” he continued, “but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.”

As Johnson dug his heels in, the issue was well and truly alive when the tournament rolled around in 2003. So much so that the television broadcast of the Masters that year and the next did not include advertising, to prevent the club’s long-time corporate partners being dragged into the debate.

Johnson, just the fifth chairman in the history of the club, claimed Augusta National was a private club and could choose its members as it felt fit. He became so associated with his anti-female stance that it literally became the first line of his obituary when he died in 2017. The New York Times described him as the man “who forcefully resisted efforts to admit women as members of Augusta National Golf Club.”

Martha Burk addresses a protest against Augusta National's discriminatory membership stance in 2003.

Burk, meanwhile, organised a protest outside the gates of Augusta National during the 2003 Masters, which drew plenty of coverage, despite the number of protesters being limited to about 40.

It wasn’t the first time the composition of the membership had become an issue. Founding chairman Clifford Roberts once claimed: “as long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

Roberts, a confidant of Augusta member and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, stepped down as chairman in 1976 and committed suicide in 1977, but it would be another 13 years before the club admitted a black member. The club’s location, in the segregated south, and its famous secrecy won the day – even now a full list of the approximately 300 members isn’t known.

Johnson’s stance against women members survived the furore of the Burk protests, and he remained chairman until 2006. At his annual pre-Masters media conference he continued to be asked about the club’s position, repeating his stance that the club would admit female members at a time of their own choosing.

That time finally arrived in 2012, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore were given green jackets, 80 years after the club opened.

30 golfers have earned the right to tee it up at Augusta National tonight - roughly similar to the number of protesters that joined Martha Burk outside the gates of Augusta National in 2003.

This time, however, the club will welcome them with open arms.

The US Masters will be live on 9Gem and 9Now, starting with the Par-3 contest on Thursday morning.

Condoleezza Rice

The crowd was modest, but the occasion was anything but. On Thursday morning, American amateur Jennifer Kupcho stood on the first tee at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Georgia, splitting the fairway with her opening shot.

To the uninitiated, it may have seemed like just another golf tournament, but the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Tonight, the field will shatter perhaps the most infamous glass ceiling in golf, with the final round to take place on the revered grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club.

It’s a course that’s been the scene of so many famous images in the history of the sport. From the moment Gene Sarazen put the tournament that would become the US Masters on the map with “the shot heard round the world” in 1935, to the Larry Mize chip-in that broke Australian hearts in 1987, and Adam Scott’s historic putt to claim the country’s first ever green jacket in 2013, Augusta National and the US Masters have been the stage on which so many of the game’s greats have performed.

Jennifer Kupcho.

Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Ballesteros, Faldo, Woods and Spieth have all graced the fairways at Augusta. Crowds flocked to see the best in the world take on one of the most famous courses on the planet.

But there’s always been one big omission.

You won’t find Karrie Webb’s name on any trophy in the clubhouse. Nor Annika Sorenstam, or Nancy Lopez.

Put simply, for much of its history, unless you were a white male, you weren’t welcome at Augusta National.

Sure, a woman could theoretically qualify for the US Masters. But the chances of that happening were somewhere between slim and none.

And as for inviting a woman to join the male-only club? Unheard of.

Between 1932, when Augusta National opened, and 2012, the club didn’t have a single female member.

Matters came to a head in 2002 when Martha Burk, the head of the National Council of Women’s Organisations, began pressuring the club to include women members.

Burk wrote to then-chairman Hootie Johnson, suggesting the club admit female members prior to the 2003 Masters.

“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,” the letter said.

“We urge you to review your policies and practices in this regard, and open your membership to women now, so that this is not an issue when the tournament is staged next year.”

Hootie Johnson with Tiger Woods

Johnson’s reply was quick, public and forceful. He wrote that he expected Burk “would attempt to depict the members of our club as insensitive bigots and coerce the sponsors of the Masters to disassociate themselves under threat — real or implied — of boycotts and other economic pressures.”

“There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership,” he continued, “but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.”

As Johnson dug his heels in, the issue was well and truly alive when the tournament rolled around in 2003. So much so that the television broadcast of the Masters that year and the next did not include advertising, to prevent the club’s long-time corporate partners being dragged into the debate.

Johnson, just the fifth chairman in the history of the club, claimed Augusta National was a private club and could choose its members as it felt fit. He became so associated with his anti-female stance that it literally became the first line of his obituary when he died in 2017. The New York Times described him as the man “who forcefully resisted efforts to admit women as members of Augusta National Golf Club.”

Martha Burk addresses a protest against Augusta National's discriminatory membership stance in 2003.

Burk, meanwhile, organised a protest outside the gates of Augusta National during the 2003 Masters, which drew plenty of coverage, despite the number of protesters being limited to about 40.

It wasn’t the first time the composition of the membership had become an issue. Founding chairman Clifford Roberts once claimed: “as long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

Roberts, a confidant of Augusta member and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, stepped down as chairman in 1976 and committed suicide in 1977, but it would be another 13 years before the club admitted a black member. The club’s location, in the segregated south, and its famous secrecy won the day – even now a full list of the approximately 300 members isn’t known.

Johnson’s stance against women members survived the furore of the Burk protests, and he remained chairman until 2006. At his annual pre-Masters media conference he continued to be asked about the club’s position, repeating his stance that the club would admit female members at a time of their own choosing.

That time finally arrived in 2012, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore were given green jackets, 80 years after the club opened.

30 golfers have earned the right to tee it up at Augusta National tonight - roughly similar to the number of protesters that joined Martha Burk outside the gates of Augusta National in 2003.

This time, however, the club will welcome them with open arms.

The US Masters will be live on 9Gem and 9Now, starting with the Par-3 contest on Thursday morning.

Condoleezza Rice http://bit.ly/2YOYtRb
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