Masters 2012: Augusta National Invites Controversy, but Not Women

Paul Cook@@paulgeecookContributor IIIApril 6, 2012

"Say hello to my little friend!"
"Say hello to my little friend!"Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Watching the Masters on a 50-inch, 1080i flat screen is an immersive experience.  Awash in the vibrancy of early spring in the South—the bright purples of the azaleas, the impossibly green fairways, the almost cartoonish perfection of the putting surface—it's easy to be transported out of the dank of your basement or the funk of your local bar to a fanstastical land of swacking Titleists and crisp, $115 knit shirts.  

Unfortunately, however, the Masters Tournament is again awash in chauvinism and unchecked Southern aristocratic privilege.  

Speaking to a gathering of reporters Wednesday morning, Augusta National chairperson Billy Payne courageously deflected, obstructed and otherwise stiff-armed anything resembling a real question from the assembled members of the press.  Any question, that is, that might actually get at the truth behind the 78-year-old Club's refusal to allow women to become members.  

When asked by a reporter whether opening membership to women would send a positive message to women and girls around the world, Payne replied that he couldn't answer a question regarding a "membership issue."  (A response so baldly empty, so completely devoid of content, it was almost as though Payne was responding to a question about whether someone's dues check had cleared the bank yet.)   

This is more than just another canned response-by-committee (which always means no response at all). Payne's non-answer exemplifies the established PR blueprint for politicians, professional athletes, celebrities and other hucksters too gutless and too ruled by "tradition" and the herd mentality to address real issues and grapple with real questions.  

The question of whether or not women should be allowed to join Augusta National has been a sticky issue for decades, but this year's resurrection comes on the heels of Virginia Rometty's appointment as the new chairperson of IBM, one of the Tournament's three major corporate sponsors. 

The predictable argument for why women should not be allowed to join Augusta National runs pretty squarely along the lines of typical frat house philosophizing: "Augusta National is a private organization, ergo they have no obligation to admit anyone they don't want to."

Well and good, I suppose.  Except that this response doesn't get us anywhere, and in fact, it cleverly avoids the question at the heart of the matter: regardless of what one can do, what should one do?  Engaging questions of how we should live are inevitably much more difficult—and infinitely more meaningful—than rote matters of policy and what feels "right."  

In case you haven't figured out my own position just yet, I think it's patently stupid that we still live in a world in which open, flagrant discrimination against an entire segment of the population is still openly practiced and openly tolerated.

And yet, even as I write, the exemplars of largely-white, largely-male, largely-upper-middle class privilege stroll through the gates at Augusta National to soak up the sun, indulge in bizarrely-inexpensive concessions and watch golf.

I think it's also important to point out that these same people—people who in their own workplaces, schools, and organizations would never dream of discriminating against anyone, regardless of ethnicity or religion or color or gender—participate in a form of almost ritualized discrimination every year the Masters Tournament convenes in eastern Georgia.   

As someone who grew up just 25 miles from Augusta (or "Disgusta," as it's known to those whose existence both metaphorically and literally lies outside the high green privacy fences of Augusta National), Augusta, Ga. embodies all of the sad contradictions of early twenty-first century capitalism.  Less than 30 yards from those imposing fences, one finds the barren junk-heap of so many payday lenders, strip malls, foreclosed homes, empty storefronts and asphalt.

Who knows?  Maybe the view—and the golf—is better from home.