Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said yesterday she will escalate her campaign to have women admitted to Augusta National Golf Club in the next two weeks. Burk plans another letter-writing campaign to about 30 prominent members, most of whom are corporate executives who have not responded to her previous letter requesting their written positions on the issue.
"Stonewalling is not an effective strategy for a corporate CEO," Burk said. "I really don't think most of the guys we've written to are in disagreement with changing the policy. But they're willing to hide under their desks and let [other members] take the heat, and then not have to resign their memberships. We've decided to say that will not wash. You can either get out there and be a hero or be seen as someone who doesn't have the principles your public pronouncements might indicate."
In a wide-ranging interview yesterday at her Washington office, Burk also said she would never ask Tiger Woods or any other player to boycott the Masters. She also indicated it's unfair to singly criticize Woods for not taking a stand stronger than supporting the concept of a woman member at Augusta, when full members of the club such as prominent past champions Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have steadfastly declined to comment.
"I would tell Tiger and all the players that you need to take a moral stand here," Burk said. "If they just said it, and said it as a group, it would go a long way to solving the problem. If they came out tomorrow with the top 10 players and said this has gone on long enough, and for the sake of golf, let's get this done . . . what would that do?"
Burk also said that exerting more pressure on a number of highly visible corporate executives now in the club may be the best way to affect change from inside. In October, she wrote letters to about 35 members in that category, and only a half dozen have responded, including Lloyd Ward, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee; Kenneth Chenault, chairman of American Express, and Citigroup Chairman Sanford I. Weill.
Burk said all the responses have been supportive or neutral, but wondered why most of her initial letters have gone unanswered. Among those initially queried were former senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett and former General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt. She also has sent similar letters to several members of the Harvard Corporation, which administers the school's endowment, including D. Ronald Daniel, its treasurer.
"We know that Harvard has policies in support of diversity and fairness and against supporting organizations engaging in discrimination," she wrote to Daniel. "As treasurer, your membership in Augusta National Golf Club sends a message to the public that the university's statements on policies on nondiscrimination are not credible, and indeed gives the impression that Harvard approves of Augusta's exclusion of women."
Daniel could not be reached to comment.
In their annual meeting here this week, NCWO delegates re-elected Burk to a new two-year term by acclimation. She said she and her board were unanimous in agreeing to press the issue with those Augusta members who have not yet responded with what she described as a "fair warning" letter to be sent out in the next two weeks.
She said: "We will tell them we're putting a Web site up that will highlight your company's products, your corporate diversity statements and contact information in case consumers would like to correspond with you about your membership in a club that discriminates against women while your company professes to be diverse and non-discriminatory in its policies. Basically, we're going to highlight the corporate hypocrisy represented by their membership in Augusta National.
"I think that's what will fall out of this mess. Corporations solicit women's dollars and purport to value women's labor, but in the end, the people who run those companies are willing to consign women to second-class status. If the CEO is willing to do that, will he also look the other way when women are not making as much in salary in that corporation, or are not being promoted in that company?"
Glenn Greenspan, a spokesman for Augusta National, said in a written statement: "The American public already has voiced overwhelming support for the club and our right to make our own membership choices. Ms. Burk is obviously trying to generate yet more publicity for herself. The public has rejected its arguments and is clearly tired of hearing this story."
Burk said yesterday she also believes PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has abrogated his responsibility in not taking any stand on the issue. Finchem said in a statement released this fall that because the Masters was not a cosponsored tour event, the PGA Tour would not get involved in the issue. He and the tour have declined further comment.
On Wednesday, LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw became the first significant major golf executive to publicly support Burk's position.
"It is so clearly contradictory to [the PGA Tour's] principles, in fact it flaunts their principles," she said. "He's become an apologist for Augusta National, and he's put his organization in that spot. If I were on the tour's board, I'd be questioning if his loyalty was to the organization, or the boys at Augusta."