Ominous storm clouds passed over Augusta National Golf Club today, and Martha Burk was not even in the neighborhood. Instead, thunder, lightning, torrential rain and no demonstrations were the main order of the first day of Masters week. By 1 p.m., club officials declared today's opening round a washout and locked out thousands hoping to catch a glimpse of the players and the course.
Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, has been leading the effort to open Augusta National's all-male membership to women. In a telephone interview today, Burk said she will continue putting pressure on the club to change the policy until "they do the right thing."
"We're not going to say 'Geez, they didn't do it by this year's tournament, so maybe we'll just go away.' " she said. "That's not going to happen."
Tournament officials do not want any more rain to fall, but that does not seem likely over the next few days. More showers and storms are forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.
More than an inch of rain accumulated with morning and mid-afternoon downpours, and one of the most famous golf courses in the world had several new small rivers, including one that started in the middle of the first fairway and meandered down a hill to the lower parts of the course.
Spectators began milling outside the main gates of the club before 8 a.m., and by 1 p.m. came the dreaded announcement that the course would be closed. Many already soaked patrons, some hoping to get their first look at the storied venue, took little solace knowing the last practice round washout came in 1983.
Dan Ross, who is from the Detroit suburbs, and his son, Dan Ross Jr., who lives in Atlanta, were not happy when they were told by a guard at the front gate they could not even walk 50 yards inside to the merchandise tent to buy an official souvenir. Dan Ross Jr. had purchased two tickets at $400 each from eBay good only for the Monday practice round. Though the club said it would refund the face value price of the Monday tickets, that applies only to original purchasers, not to fans who obtained them in the secondary market.
"My dad drove 12 hours from Michigan to get here Saturday," Dan Ross Jr. said. "He's never been to the place, and I wanted to take him to a Masters before he dies. This was the year. You'd think they'd let you come in and do some shopping."
Inside the gates, several players were on the premises, killing time while hoping the skies would clear by afternoon. Instead, the driving range was shut down around noon and the saturated condition of the course precluded any play at all as groundskeepers tried to stem the flowing water with pumps.
"I don't know what to do," said Davis Love III, who won The Players Championship two weeks ago with a final-round 64 that might have been the best finishing round of his career. Love did get in a practice round on Sunday but was considering a 31/2-hour drive home to Sea Island, Ga., where there was only a 40 percent chance of rain on Tuesday.
The rain, which started Sunday, ended a 10-day dry spell that made the course extremely difficult, creating big bounces in the fairways and tough approach shots onto hard, fast greens. Now, tee shots likely will stay close to where they land, putting a premium on accuracy on the fairways and around the greens.
Such conditions generally favor the game's longest hitters, such as Love and Tiger Woods, who is focusing on an unprecedented third straight Masters victory. But Love said that last year, with similar conditions after rain throughout the week, shorter hitters also played well enough to stay in contention -- Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal and Retief Goosen, among others.
As for the week's other significant story -- Burk and her plans to protest -- Love insisted he won't be paying much attention.
"We're tired of hearing about it," Love said. "We had a great tournament [TPC] two weeks ago and again this week, and that's all anyone [among the players] is paying attention to. We're just ready to play golf. It's frustrating, because a lot more important things are going on in the world, and golf isn't one of them."
Burk knows that, too, but has no plan to back off a major demonstration outside the gates, even if she is still not certain where she will be allowed to stage it. U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. today upheld a law that allows the sheriff to regulate protests like the one planned by Burk at Augusta National Golf Club, then ruled that Sheriff Ronald Strength did not violate his discretion by denying Burk the right to protest at the front gates.
Burk said earlier today that regardless of the court's ruling, she would have about 200 protesters on her side, with another 200 like-minded supporters supplied by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/Push organization. They will compete for hearts and minds with several other groups, including an expected small knot of Ku Klux Klan demonstrators and the founder of an anti-Burk Web site who says he has 500 people coming.
Burk was in New York today for a round of television appearances and will return Wednesday for several more, including NBC's "Today" show. Thursday in Atlanta, she will join several Georgia legislators and other state opinion makers for a forum-news conference. She said her plans for Friday would depend on where she will be allowed to demonstrate, with her main event on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. and going until 3 p.m.
Burk said today she was "surprised" that Augusta National had not yet agreed to admit a woman to its ranks, if only to avoid what she said as a "real tarnishing of the club's image. If they don't do it, they'll dissolve into that small Southern club they claim to be and obviously are not. Their corporate members won't allow it. It's going to happen, and sooner than later."