The chairman of Augusta National Golf Club said today that no woman will be invited to join the all-male golf club before the Masters tournament in April, and that no timetable has been set to change that policy. He also said the tournament will go on as scheduled "and it will always be held.
"We are a single-gender club, and that has always been our tradition," William "Hootie" Johnson said in a telephone interview today with The Washington Post from his home in Columbia, S.C., his first public comments on the issue since July 9. "We're very comfortable the way we are. It may happen down the road, but when I don't know."
Johnson and the club have been challenged on that policy by Martha Burk, chairwoman of the Washington-based National Council of Women's Organizations. She sent him a letter last spring questioning the club's all-male membership and requested a meeting to discuss it. He responded in a sharply written statement released by Augusta National.
Johnson, 71, said he has never spoken with Burk and added, "I have nothing to talk to her about."
Over the last five months, Burk's organization, representing 160 women's organizations and 7 million members, has been trying to persuade Augusta to change its policy. She has sent out close to 30 letters to members in highly visible corporate positions seeking their help in working from the inside to change the policy. She also has asked them to resign their memberships.
Johnson also said the club running an open-to-the-public for-profit tournament that is televised by CBS over the public airwaves does not change the equation for Augusta National in terms of being a private club.
"I don't think that has anything to do with it," he said. "All I know is we do something very good for the game of golf. We put on a world-class event, and 150 million people around the world watch it. There are plenty of single-sex organizations in this country . . . the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, fraternities and sororities, the Junior League. Why are we being singled out?"
He indicated that previous media speculation that the club had been on a track to add a female member before Burk wrote him was "an inaccurate assessment. . . . Again, it may happen one day, but I will not speculate on when."
Johnson cited a poll the club recently commissioned that he said indicated "over 70 percent of the respondents said they were in support of keeping it all male."
Those figures will be released on Wednesday by WomenTrend, a division of the Washington-based Polling Company.
A source familiar with the 48-question poll said today that one question specifically asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement, "Augusta National is correct in its decision not to give in to Martha Burk's demands. They should review and change the policies in their own time and in their own way." The source said 73 percent of female respondents agreed and 72 male respondents agreed.
"It sounds like push polling," Burk said. "The questions are constructed to elicit a certain answer. It's used in politics all the time, and it's unethical. I would discount it. I think he's losing the public relations argument with the public, and likely in his own club."
Burk also said yesterday she was not surprised that Johnson said there is no timetable for adding women, and that "now we know it's not just about me. It's their own attitude that is the basis for their discrimination. It's their own bigotry that is standing in their own way. I also believe he's now trying to tamp down an internal rebellion in his own ranks. I really don't think what he's saying is the last word.
"I hope cooler heads and rationality will prevail and they will come down on the side of fairness, regardless of what Hootie Johnson thinks. These guys are not Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, they're adult human beings, many of them CEOs of the largest U.S. corporations. He's attempting to allow discrimination by adult males on their female peers."
Johnson has gone on the offensive over the last week. He met with selected reporters from five news organizations -- the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and the Augusta Chronicle to make his case. He conducted five one-on-one interviews, with the stipulation that the stories be held until this morning.
In the AP interview, he said, "we will prevail because we are right." Asked if he was annoyed by the very public controversy surrounding his very private club, he said: "This whole issue annoys me. One of the things that disappoints me most is that the press has not been fair in so many ways. I know some of the people know us, but when she [Burk] throws out bigotry and discriminatory . . . if we were discriminating, then all those other single-gender organizations are discriminating, and they're not."