NEW YORK (AP) -- Citigroup chairman Sanford I. Weill offered his guarded support to the women's group pushing Augusta National to admit female members.
Citigroup sent a statement Friday to the National Council of Women's Organizations, making Weill the first corporate executive to openly favor the group's bid, the New York Times first reported Saturday.
Weill ''expressed his views to the Augusta National Golf Club and will continue to engage in what he hopes will be a constructive dialogue on this issue, toward an objective that he believes we share with your organization,'' Citigroup said in the statement signed by the company's director of public affairs. ''However, he respectfully intends to keep this dialogue private.''
''I respect the notion of trying to work something like this out in private,'' Martha Burk, chairwoman of the NWCO, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Burk said, however, she would like an assurance that an agreement will be reached soon.
''It's pretty easy to say 'We're working on it,' but that can go on for months and even years,'' she said.
Citigroup was a sponsor of the Masters, but was dropped along with IBM and Coca-Cola in August as the club tried to shield the companies from the controversy. Without sponsors, CBS' Masters coverage will be the only commercial-free telecast in sports.
Augusta National officials declined to comment to The Times on Weill's statement. Club chairman Hootie Johnson is recovering from heart surgery.
The newspaper reported that several Augusta National members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said other executives are pressing the club on the issue.
''There are maybe 20 members who feel that way, and a lot of them are highly motivated chief executives,'' The Times quoted a longtime club member as saying.
Burk said her organization has been contacting high-ranking executives who are members of Augusta, among them Warren Buffet, chairman of the investment firm Berkshire Hathaway and No. 2 on Forbes magazine's list of wealthiest Americans.
''We've probably sent 20, 22 letters,'' Burk said.
The friction began in June when Burk sent Johnson a letter urging him to invite women to join the Georgia club that opened in 1933.
Johnson has said the club has no exclusionary policies. While women often play at Augusta National, the club has not had a female member and a black did not join until 1990.
After issuing a three-sentence reply to Burk that said Augusta membership policies are private, Johnson blasted her intentions in a three-page statement to the media in which he said the club would not be ''bullied'' into taking a female member.
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