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NATIONAL | summer 2003

It's About More Than Golf
Protest moves from greens to the green stuff

Ms. Summer 2003

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It made a huge media splash, but the April protest against the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National in South Carolina did not convince Hootie Johnson and his minions to allow women members into their elite, all-male club. So Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations decided to hit the club's members where it really hurts: their wallets.

"We will no longer bother to rebut August National's paid media consultant or its chairman in defending their flagrant sex discrimination," says Burk, whose alliance represents 160 organizations. "We turn now to the stakeholders, those corporate CEOs who have the power as members."

The Augusta campaign has always been less about golf and more about exposing the hypocrisy of corporations whose CEOs wheel-and-deal on the course and in the no-women allowed clubrooms. If women can't join such clubs, they're de facto barred from the inner circles of business where crucial decisions affecting women's lives are sealed.

Pig on course: women club Augusta for sexism (Photo: Jenny Warburg)

"The deals that are made on that golf course affect the low pay of secretaries and the lack of paid family and medical leave and subsidized child care in this country," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Burk and her supporters will now focus a spotlight on companies that condone August-style sex discrimination. First up: investement firms that recommend stock in companies whose CEO or top executives hold memberships at Augusta, and public pension funds holding such stocks. Stockholders resolutions will call on CEOs to divest themselves of certain club memberships. Already, stockholders at a Citicorp based board meeting have asked CEO Sanford Weill to drop his Augusta
membership (which he hadn't yet at press time). Congress will be pressed to introduce new tax legislation making it illegal to deduct membership dues and entertainment expenses for clubs that discriminate on the basis of sex.

Finally, a public education campaign will inform consumers which companies hae CEOs with membreships at Augusta and similar clubs. "We want to hear Coca Cola defend its position. We want to hear Citigroup defend its position," says Smeal. "We want all those men at Augusta who are fathers to tell their daughters why they are not good enough to be members."

Augusta National's roster includes the heads and board members of high-profile government contracters such as IBM, Motorola, General Electric, and Iraq-rebuilding Bechtel. Leading financial institutions, including Bank of America, American Express, Citigroup, and Predential Financial, are also well-represented, as are CEOs from corporations that produce everday consumer products: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Coors, Ford, Exxonmobile, AT&T and Berkshire Hathaway (parent company of Benjamin Moore Paints, GEICO and Dairy Queen).

"Tax dollars fill their coffers, and some of those dollars most surely wind their way into Augusta National through dues reimbursement, travel expenses, lavish entertainment expeditures," says Burk. "Yet these corporate titans maintain membership in a club that shuts out half of the taxpayers that foot the bill."

Despite efforts to discredit protesters and demean Burk's campaign, the fact is that the Masters tournament was broadcast on CBS without commercial sponsorship. The topic was on the lips and minds of everyone vaugely aware of professional golf. Maybe even African-Asian-American golfer Tiger Woods-- a two-time Master's champ who refused to take a
principled stand against the club's policies-- was adversely affected by the hoopla: He finished 16th.

Augusta's intransigence about accepting women members has already sparked Congressional attention. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) who joined Burk and the Feminist Majority Foundation-- along with NOW, the Atlanta Women's Foundation, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Congress for Black Women and others at the Augusta rally in April-- has introduced a bill urging members of Congress and executive branch appointees not to patronize clubs that discriminate on the basis of race or sex.