Martha Burk said yesterday she would like to believe Augusta National Golf Club would cancel the Masters if the United States goes to war in Iraq in the coming days. But if the tournament goes on as scheduled starting April 10, she and her organization still intend to be in Augusta to protest the club's all-male membership policy, though likely in a more subdued manner.
"If they do not cancel the tournament out of deference to our fighting men and women, we will still be there," said Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations who has led a national campaign to open Augusta National to women members. "The tone will be different than what it might have been. We don't want to marginalize ourselves while the nation's mind is on the war.
"We need to point out that what they're doing [on the club's membership policies] is wrong. We will still have a presence there if they go on with it. But our methods and our message will be slightly different, depending on national events."
Augusta National spokesman Glenn Greenspan said in a statement yesterday that, "planning continues for this year's Masters Tournament, and just like other major sporting events, we will be evaluating the situation as it unfolds. But for Ms. Burk to use the possibility of war as an opportunity to inject herself into the news again is the lowest form of self-promotion."
Burk's group is planning to protest on the third day of the tournament, Saturday, April 12. The NCWO applied for a one-day permit to allow 24 protesters at the front gate of the club and another 200 protesters across Washington Road, the main thoroughfare leading to the club. Instead, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength granted permission for a protest in a 5.1-acre area owned by Augusta National that is a third of a mile away from the front entrance.
The American Civil Liberties Union last Monday filed suit in the 11th Circuit federal court in Augusta on Burk's behalf as well as Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which also plans to protest during Masters week. The suit challenges a recently passed city ordinance giving the Richmond County sheriff the power to grant such permits. The suit seeks an expedited hearing on the issue, and a permanent restraining order from enforcing what the ACLU considers to be an unconstitutional ordinance. As of yesterday, the court has not ruled.
Burk said yesterday that despite the lawsuit, she has not given up hope that she can still negotiate with the sheriff's department on a suitable site. She also said that if she were running the tournament during a time of war, "I'd cancel it." During World War II, the Masters was not played in 1943, '44 and '45.
"To be down there partying in Augusta when the country is at war is unseemly," Burk said. "If I were organizing it, I would consider postponing it just for the public image it would put forth. It is a money-lavishing activity. We would also be highlighting the public money through defense contractors that finds its way to Augusta National.
"If I were a CEO of General Electric, Bechtel, Motorola or U.S. Steel [all with executives listed as club members], I would not want my membership highlighted at a time when millions in public money is coming into my company. I really do think they have a problem."
Janice Mathis, general counsel for Rainbow/PUSH, said yesterday her group will follow Burk's lead, and also indicated their protest plans likely would change from a full-scale demonstration to what she described as "other forms of expression, perhaps an educational forum about why gender equity matters. We're all keeping our options open. But if women can go to Iraq and fight . . . they ought to be able to join Augusta National."