LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw today strongly condemned Augusta National Golf Club's policy of excluding women and called upon chairman William "Hootie" Johnson "to do the right thing" and open the club to female members.

Calling the highly charged debate surrounding the issue damaging to the game of golf, Votaw became the first golf official to take a strong public stand in the debate and said he felt compelled to do so only after Johnson last week reaffirmed the club's male-only policy, saying it would remain in place at least through next April's Masters tournament.

"Augusta National should admit women as members," Votaw said at the conclusion of his state-of-the-game address at the ADT Championship at Trump International Golf Club. "It is Augusta's right as a private organization not to admit women, but it is not the right thing to do. . . . The time for the debate has passed . . . not admitting women to Augusta National is exclusionary. And that is wrong for women and wrong for the game of golf."

Glenn Greenspan, Augusta National's director of communications, issued the club's response in a statement: "We have always felt that single-gender organizations like Augusta National Golf Club, the Ladies Professional Golf Association and countless others are both legally and morally proper. It is clear that millions of Americans both support and belong to these organizations. The Ladies Professional Golf Association is entitled to its opinion, too, but we respectfully disagree."

Martha Burk, the chairwoman of the Washington-based National Council of Women's Organizations, applauded Votaw's stance when informed today of his comments. For the past five months, Burk has been trying to force Augusta to admit women through a campaign of letter-writing and public condemnation.

"I'm gratified they're coming around to affirming our position," Burk said. PGA Tour Commissioner "Tim Finchem needs to take a page out of Ty Votaw's book. He's still the biggest hypocrite in the mix. It's almost as if he works for Augusta National and not the Tour.

"I think this is a big step, and it probably should have been done earlier. I'm gratified to see [Votaw] is clearly willing to go against the good old boy code of silence that has governed golf for far too long. It's more significant than you might think at first glance."

Votaw stopped short of criticizing Finchem, who has refused to take a stance against Augusta National and stated in an August letter to Burk that the tour did not intend to withdraw the recognition of the Masters as a tournament. Votaw also declined to speculate on what role Tiger Woods or other prominent members of the international golf community should have in the raging debate.

The PGA Tour declined to comment through a spokesman.

LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw condemned Augusta National for keeping women from membership.