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Johnson lashes out at call for women in club

In a defiant statement about the privacy of Augusta National,
chairman Hootie Johnson lashed out at a national women's group
Tuesday for urging the club to have female members before next
year's Masters.

"Our membership alone decides our membership -- not any outside
group with its own agenda,'' Johnson said in a surprisingly long
and angry statement.

The National Council of Women's Organizations, which has about 6
million members from 160 groups, sent a letter to Johnson on June
12 after chairwoman Martha Burk read reports about Augusta National
not having women among its 300 members.

Lloyd Ward, the first black CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee
and an Augusta member, said during the Masters that he would lobby
to broaden the membership to include women.

"We know that Augusta National and the sponsors of the Masters
do not want to be viewed as entities that tolerate discrimination
against any group, including women,'' Burk said in the letter.

In a three-sentence reply to Burk that she received via
overnight mail Wednesday, Johnson said he found the letter to be
"offensive and coercive,'' and that there would be no more
discussion with NCWO because Augusta membership matters are
private.

"The response is insensitive at best and confrontational at
worst,'' Burk said. "I and my groups are making a good-faith
effort to urge the club to be fair, to not discriminate against
women and basically to come into the 21st century.

"We were trying the olive-branch approach, but he's unwilling
to talk.''

Johnson had plenty to say in a three-page statement.

"The message delivered to us was clearly coercive,'' he said.
"We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated. We do not
intend to become a trophy in their display case.''

Burk said NCWO's next step would be to contact the sponsors of
the Masters -- Coca-Cola, IBM and Citigroup -- to ask them not to do
business with a club that has no female members.

"I hope they'll respond positively,'' she said. "I find it
interesting to think that if the club barred blacks, whether any
sponsor would come near it in this day and age. Why should it be
different for barring half of the population?''

Augusta National, built on a former nursery in northeastern
Georgia, opened in 1932. The Masters was created in 1934 and has
become the most famous golf tournament in the world. It usually
gets the highest television ratings, too.

Tiger Woods won the Masters this year for the third time.

Johnson said in April that Augusta does not have exclusionary
membership policies, although it did not have a black member until
1990 and, as Burk points out, has not had a female member in its
70-year history.

"There may well come a day when women will be invited to join
our membership, but that timetable will be ours, and not at the
point of a bayonet,'' Johnson said.

While there are no female members, several women have played
Augusta. Johnson recently invited the University of South Carolina
women's golf team to play as his guest, and Karrie Webb and Kelly
Robbins from the LPGA Tour played the course in May.

Johnson tried to draw a line between the privacy of the club and
the public nature of the Masters tournament, attended by some
40,000 people.

Augusta National operates the Masters independent from any other
golf organization, such as the PGA Tour. The club gets most of its
money from an annual TV contract with CBS Sports and sales from its
souvenir store at the course. Weekly tickets cost $125, half the
cost of other major golf championships.

"Augusta National and the Masters -- while happily entwined --
are quite different,'' Johnson said. "One is a private golf club.
The other is a world-class sports event of great public interest.
It is insidious to attempt to use one to alter the essence of the
other.''

Burk suggested that if Augusta National does not have female
members, the Masters should move to a club that does.

"The Masters, in my mind, is not tied at the hip to this
club,'' she said. "An event of this profile could be held
somewhere else.''

The next major golf championship is the British Open, where
Woods will try to win the third leg of the Grand Slam. It will be
played at Muirfield in Scotland, a club that also does not have
female members.

"I'm going to leave that for the British feminists,'' Burk
said.