LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Without taking sides or offering to be the mediator, Tiger Woods said the best way to resolve the membership debate at Augusta National is to hash it out in private.
''There's no substitute for looking someone in the eye,'' he said Wednesday.
The chances of that happening are remote.
Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, sent the club a letter in June asking it to add a female member so its all-male membership does not become an issue at the 2003 Masters.
Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson replied in a terse, three-sentence letter that club issues are private and there would be no further discussion. He then sent a three-page statement to the media, saying Augusta would not be bullied into having a female member.
Woods said he would like to see a female member at Augusta, but that private clubs have a right to set their own policies.
''Hootie is right, and Martha is right. That's the problem,'' Woods said after a practice round for the Disney World Golf Classic. ''They're both right, but they're going about it the wrong way. If they both sat down and talked about it, it would be resolved a lot better than what's going on right now.''
Burk said she was pleased Woods repeated the need for Augusta National to admit a female member but disappointed his position was not stronger.
''I'd like to know what about sex discrimination he thinks is right,'' Burk said. ''He seems to want to apologize out of the situation by saying he's going to be criticized no matter what he does. I can't conceive of an individual criticizing Tiger for speaking out against discrimination.
''If others had taken that view, he'd be a caddie at Augusta. He wouldn't be a player.''
Burk said she offered to meet with Johnson at his convenience, in person or over the phone, and was accused by the Augusta chairman of trying to arrange secret meetings.
''Perhaps Tiger can convince Hootie that his approach is a little militant,'' Burk said.
Burk has criticized Woods for refusing to take a stronger position ever since he first talked about the membership issue during the British Open.
Woods said at Muirfield that private clubs are entitled to their own rules, and there was nothing he could do about the membership at Augusta.
He said he stands by his initial opinion.
''Is it unfair? Yes. Do I want to see a female member? Yes. But it's our right to have any club set up the way we want to,'' Woods said.
''Everyone wants to have someone say what they believe in. That's human nature. Everyone wants you to support their cause.''
Johnson has said Augusta does not have exclusionary policies, although it has never had a female member in its 70 years, and it wasn't until 1990 that the club admitted a black member.
As Burk began to pressure corporate sponsors of the Masters, Johnson responded in late August by dropping them for next year's tournament, making the Masters the only commercial-free sports broadcast on network television.
In recent weeks, the chief executives of American Express, Citigroup Corp. and the U.S. Olympic Committee -- all members at Augusta -- have issued statements supporting female members at the home of the Masters.
Woods thinks the issue will be settled ''one way or another'' by April, when he tries to become the first player to win three straight Masters.
''I thought that Hootie and the membership were going to put a female member in there, but now they are being forced to do it,'' Woods said. ''That's one of the reasons why Hootie is pretty upset about the whole issue. He's been forced to do something he was already going to do.''
Burk said Woods was being naive.
''If Hootie was going to do that anyway, he could have told me in private and we could have avoided all these months of controversy,'' Burk said. ''I think they did not want to do it and seized upon our letter as an excuse.''
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