Citigroup chair favors women members at Augusta

NEW YORK -- 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

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

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.