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Blacks and Women in Augusta Golf

Augusta's National Golf Club was founded by some of the great golfers and businessmen of the time, including Robert “Bobby” Tyre Jones Jr. and Clifford Roberts. The course opened in the spring of 1933 and the members were chosen from an elite group of white businessmen. To this day, the list of members is rarely released or known in full by the public.

The Masters Tournament started shortly after the club’s founding. From the beginning of the tournament until 1982, the tournament rules stated that players must use local caddies, not the caddies with whom they usually travel and play. All caddies at Augusta National were black. The complaint on the part of the players, though, had nothing to do with race. Because of the number of participants in the tournament, caddies were brought in from outside clubs in the area. Thus, they knew little about the course itself in order to direct the players as to shots and club choices. Players contended that they would at least have their regular caddie who knew their personal playing style. In 1982, the club changed the ruling to allow outside caddies.

In 1972, outsiders pressured the invitation committee, which extends tournament invitations to qualifying players under a specific set of rules, to invite African-American golfer Lee Elder even though he did not fit the criteria at that time. The committee refused to alter the qualifications to admit someone just because of their race. In 1975, Lee Elder qualified and became the first African-American to participate in the Masters Tournament. Other black golfers who have participated in the tournament are Jim Thorpe and Calvin Peete.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the club was under a lot of pressure to admit an African-American member, especially given the caddie-member relationship as distinctly black-white. The club did not cave to this pressure; it did not admitted its first black member until 1990. A nearby club in Alabama, Shoal Creek, was unable to host a PGA tournament due to a national ruling that clubs hosting a PGA tournament must not practice racial segregation. During this controversy, Augusta National quietly admitted its first African-American member; because of the secrecy of the list of members, major newspapers such as The New York Times did not publish his name.

All of the members of the Augusta National Golf Club are men; women are allowed to play the course only as guests of a member, a privilege held by all non-members. In the early 2000s, this policy sparked a major controversy, mainly involving Martha Burk and the National Council of Women’s Organizations who advocated against the Club. Advertisers, feeling pressure from both sides, ultimately removed their sponsorship of the Masters Tournament in 2003, and the tournament aired without commercials or sponsorship in both 2003 and 2004. Generally, the debate cooled as members of the club and the official spokesman, then-Chairman William “Hootie” Johnson, declared their status as a private club and refused to bend to the accusations of discrimination.

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Discussion Questions

1. The Augusta National Golf Club was founded by some of the nation's wealthiest white men. Besides race, what membership requirements would have barred most African Americans from the Augusta National Golf Club? What other groups did the Club's membership requirements exclude? Do you think class or gender is a more important criterion for entrance into the Club?

2. Many organizations still exist that are comprised entirely of a particular gender, religious faith, or some other specific characteristic like some sororities and fraternities. When, if ever, is it appropriate to constitute or create organizations whose membership is limited by gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other criteria?

3. Imagine that you are Lee Elder, both in the years before and after he qualified for the Masters Tournament. What kinds of pressures did he experience while working to qualify for the tournament? How did these pressures change when he played in the 1975 Masters?

Take it to the Streets!

Conduct an oral history interview with someone who graduated before 1960 about the athletics departments their high school. What sports had teams for women? For men? Compare their responses to the gendered make-up of the athletic teams at your school. Write a 2-3 page essay that summarizes your findings.

The debate about including women in the Augusta National Club is very complex. Some, like "Hootie" Johnson, the Club's president at the time of this controversy, argued that other organizations, like the Girl and Boy Scouts, or colleges and universities like Sweet Briar and Morehouse, also discriminate on the basis of gender. Others, like Martha Burk, who lead the crusade for women's admission to the Club, argued that women deserved to take advantage of the Club's resources. Adding complexity to the argument, some businesswomen in the city feared that the controversy would cause them to lose money, especially if the Tournament was canceled or relocated. Read the following articles listed below and debate the pros and cons of this issue.

"GOLF; A Private Club's Defense" in The New York Times

"Should Augusta National Open the Door to Women?" on  CNN.com

"Augusta Women Say Golf Club Flap Could Cost Them" in USA Today

Writer: Mary Boyce Hicks                                                                     
Editors and Researchers: Mary Boyce Hicks, Christina L. Davis, and Professor Barbara McCaskill 
Web Site Designer: William Weems

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