First defection doesn't shake Augusta's stance

Posted: Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Augusta National Golf Club showed no signs Tuesday of bowing to pressure to allow women to join, even after a former television executive became the first member to defect from the club over the issue.

Former CBS chief executive Thomas H. Wyman leveled a parting shot while resigning from the club where he has been a member for 25 years, calling Augusta National's stand on female members ''pigheaded'' and saying up to a quarter of the club's 300 members feel the same way he does.

Augusta National officials took the resignation in stride and said it would not change the club's position that it will decide when to admit women members on its own and that there will be none by the Masters tournament in April.

''We are disappointed that Mr. Wyman has chosen to publicize a private matter,'' club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said. ''While we respect the fact that there are differences of opinion on this issue, we intend to stand firm behind our right to make what are both appropriate and private membership choices.''

Wyman, who could not be reached Tuesday despite repeated attempts, submitted his resignation in a Nov. 27 letter to club chairman Hootie Johnson in which he said he hoped other members would also speak out.

The resignation was first reported by The New York Times, which also interviewed Wyman, the former chief executive of CBS, on Monday.

''I am not anxious to make this personal,'' Wyman told the newspaper. ''But Hootie keeps writing that there has not been a single case of protest in the membership. And he absolutely believes this will all go away. It will not go away and it should not. I know there is a large number of members, at least 50 to 75, who believe it is inevitable that there will be and should be a woman member.

''There are obviously some redneck, old-boy types down there, but there are a lot of very thoughtful, rational people in the membership and they feel as strongly as I do.''

Several Augusta National members, under pressure by the National Council of Women's Organizations, have publicly said they favored admitting women and would work inside the club toward that goal.

Wyman's resignation, however, is believed to be the first time a member of the intensely private and exclusive club that hosts golf's premier tournament has quit over the issue.

It was apparently sparked by comments from Johnson last month that only seemed to harden the club's position that it will make its own rules.

''A woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is out in the future,'' Johnson told The Associated Press on Nov. 4.

Asked if there was any chance there would be a female member by the Masters, Johnson replied flatly, ''No.''

Martha Burk, head of the NCWO, said Wyman's resignation may help spark more debate within the club.

''The circumstances of the resignation and statement indicate there could be a crisis within Augusta in terms of leadership,'' Burk said. ''Any time you've got 25 percent of your members who are unhappy with your policies indicates a crisis of management.''

Burk, who has promised picketing outside the Masters if the club doesn't change its policy, said she also hopes more corporate executives will now also reconsider their memberships.

''It's amazing that the CEOs of corporate America can be so reluctant to leave,'' she said. ''I think this increases the pressure on active CEOs because they have a bigger stake in terms of customer perceptions and corporate image.''

An Associated Press poll conducted Nov. 22-26 found Americans evenly split on the issue, with 46 percent of respondents saying the club has a right to have an all-male membership and the same percentage said a club holding such a prestigious tournament should have female members.

An overwhelming majority, 75 percent, said Tiger Woods should play in the Masters despite the dispute, while 15 percent said he should not.

''For that gentleman to resign his membership, that's his opinion, that's his entitlement,'' Woods said Tuesday. ''It was his choice, and he felt very strongly in doing so.

''You have to admire that for what he did. He didn't have to do that, but he certainly believed that what he did was the right thing for him,'' he said.

The 72-year-old Wyman, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School and the Sloan School at M.I.T., said he viewed the inclusion of women members no differently than admitting the first black members to Augusta in 1990.

In an interview with the Times, he called on Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus the only two Augusta National members who are also Masters champions, to support the cause.

''Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus could be very helpful with their voices,'' Wyman said.

Both Palmer and Nicklaus have tried to steer clear of the controversy, with Palmer saying last month there was little he could add to the issue.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS