Hard to take a Hootie seriously
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Augusta National's biggest PR problem in its fight to keep women out is that its chairperson is named Hootie.

Earl Woods, Katilda Woods, Elin Nordigren
Augusta National believes there is a place for women, as a shot of this year's Masters gallery shows.
Now, I've never met Hootie Johnson, whose real name is William and who is largely responsible for bringing The Masters into the modern era, or at least up to the late 1950s. He has four daughters and has been credited with helping integrate colleges in South Carolina. So I know it's not fair, but let's be honest: Every time you see a quote from the man or hear his name on TV, you start chuckling, don't you? Hootie. Hootie. No matter what he's done in his past, that's not the sort of name that makes you say, "Now there's a progressive leader.''

Hootie drew headlines last week when he announced that rather than bow to "requests" to accept women members, Augusta is cutting its corporate sponsors and will have The Masters air without commercials next year. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah!

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations responded to that by putting pressure on CBS not to air the tournament next spring and saying she will ask PGA Tour pros not to play in it. Burk will let us know what else she plans just as soon as she returns from her summer home on the planet Neptune.

There must be a hundred more important issues for Burk to pursue, but I'm 100 percent behind anyone who causes any discomfort for the folks at Augusta. These people could not be any more arrogant or take themselves any more seriously if Earl Woods was the chairperson instead of Hootie.

Now, some of Augusta's requirements, such as the limit on commercials, are refreshing. But much of it borders on the warped.

Augusta National strongly discourages CBS broadcasters from using the terms "fans'' or "galleries'' during The Masters (those people paying scalpers thousands of dollars a ticket must be called "patrons"). The network must avoid any mention that the players are awarded money for their performances. Until this year, Augusta also limited TV coverage to the back nine, leading to constant curiosity about what went on during the front nine (were we missing some sort of Tailhook party? A "Patrons Gone Wild" video?).

And woe to the broadcaster who compares the greens to a bikini wax.

Augusta sets these rules for one reason. It can. The Masters is the most prestigious tournament in the world and everyone will do whatever it takes to be part of it. And Augusta just loves making people do things its way.

To say Augusta is resistant to change is an understatement. If Augusta ran the NFL, there would be no halftime shows, no cheerleaders, no instant replay, and they would only show the second half of the Super Bowl. If Augusta ran baseball, there would be no wild card, no divisions, no artificial turf, no night games and Kirby Puckett would have broken the color barrier.

Which is why Hootie responded to Burk's "request" as he did. There was no way he was going to back down. Being exclusive is the whole point of their club. Augusta even said no to Bill Gates. So it will continue saying no to women and giving Burk one hell of a battle. I think Augusta will eventually back down on this, but it could take years. Any club that won't let the world's richest man inside isn't going to go down easy.

It doesn't matter much to the folks at Augusta how they look to the rest of the world just so long as the rest of the world remains on the outside looking in.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.



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