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 Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 22:35 GMT
US Masters golf club under fire
Scoreboard at the US Masters
The controversy has cast a shadow over the Masters

It's been said that golf is the sport of noblemen and gentlemen, which might explain why the game's in quite so much trouble.

The great and the very great in US golf, from Tiger Woods on down, are now being asked to boycott the country's most famous tournament at the country's most famous club: The Masters at Augusta.

Famous and exclusive, there are just 300 members and none are women.

It was only 10 years ago that the first African-American was asked to join and there is now a growing row in the United States over its men-only status.

'It's going to have to change'

This particular ball was first hit by Martha Burk, the Chair of the highly-respected National Council of Women's Organisations.
Marth Burk, National Council of Women's Organisations
Martha Burk says Augusta will not be able to bully their way through this

She wrote a letter earlier this year calling on the club to allow women to become members. Augusta was targeted because it hosts the Master's tournament.

Its formidable chairman, Hootie Johnson, issued a sharp statement saying he would not be bullied and so a war of attrition has begun.

Martha Burk says: "It is now past the point where they can just bully their way through it. It is going to have to change.

"The Masters tournament and the Augusta National are now identified with sex-discrimination as much as they're identified with golf," she added.

It's a recipe for trouble that's got the great and the good of Georgia up in arms.

More important issues

Vera Stewart's catering firm, Very Vera, depends on big business from the Masters.

Bookings are down and she thinks Martha Burk might be to blame.
Vera Stewart who owns a local catering business
Vera Stewart says other battles are more important for women

"It's never occurred to me that a woman would be a member of the national," she says, arguing most women across America agree with her.

"There are too many other battles that are much more concern to women".

Augusta National is not doing any interviews.

Its members are not allowed to speak to the press. Two have resigned amid claims there are more who are also unhappy about the club's policy.

Many of the remaining members are senior officers in companies that have sex-discrimination policies.

Firms like Coca-cola, Motorola, JP Morgan Chase and American Express will not welcome the negative publicity.

Green Burkha

But as Augusta National refuses to meet with its critics so they have next year's tournament in their sights.

One woman's group even plans to don green burkhas in protest.

Green was chosen because that is the colour of the famous blazer worn by Augusta members and Master's champions, and the burkha for obvious reasons.

This has the feel of a row that is not going to go away. The "gentlemanly" world of golf may never be quite the same again.

See also:

03 Dec 02 | Golf
19 Nov 02 | Sports Talk
19 Nov 02 | Golf
31 Aug 02 | Golf
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