Thank you, Martha Burk. Speaking for the golf-watching public, we didn't think we could enjoy the Masters any more than we did last year -- the first year that all 18 holes were televised. But then you came along, Martha, and thanks to you this week we'll get to watch the Masters without any commercial interruption.
Augusta National yanked all commercials in order to protect its longtime sponsors from any embarrassment at having to choose between the "tuhnament" (as folks tend to say down there) and Weekend At Martha's! And we get: All 18. No commercials.
How great is that.
It's like PBS without the stupid Pledge Week.
So can I get you anything, Martha? A pecan roll? A souvenir azalea? A green-and-gold Masters hat to keep the hot Georgia sun off your head while you're picketing somewhere out beyond the livestock?
When Masters TV coverage starts Thursday -- with the azaleas ushering in The Official Start of Spring -- you won't see Martha Burk at all. Tom Caraccioli, a spokesman for USA Network, which will telecast the first two days of the tournament, said, "We are broadcasting the golf tournament, period." And you can't really believe CBS Sports, which has been in bed with Augusta National for 300 years, will give her a smooch on the weekend, can you? The only way Martha Burk will get on CBS is if she streaks naked down the 15th fairway.
After a federal judge denied her appeal yesterday, Burk and her protesters have been relegated to a space about one-half mile away from Augusta National's main gates. In golf as in real estate, location is everything. Burk may as well be picketing in Uruguay. She'll be on the evening news all right. But to Masters viewers she'll be a rumor.
What a tumble Martha Burk has taken. For months she was pitching a no-hitter. She had right on her side and fire in her belly. Even if you wanted to defend the constitutional protection of private clubs, surely you had to bend a bit towards the social justice of having a female member at Augusta -- especially considering Augusta National is anything but private during Masters Week. It's a money-exploding, buses-are-welcome, y'all-come, green-and-gold golf theme park for heaven's sake! That place couldn't be more open to the public if it had golden arches on the first tee and a dollar menu deal.
Martha Burk had worked the body and the head equally. She appealed to the American people's sense of fairness, and lashed out at Augusta National's chairman, Hootie Johnson, as an antiquated symbol of the Old South. And she got lucky, too, because every time Hootie opened his mouth, he stuck in his foot. Everything coming from official Augusta National had the decaying smell of the 19th century.
But then Burk made a miscalculation -- she apparently began to believe she was bigger than her stated aim. (Because what is she asking for? The admission of one rich, middle-aged, accomplished woman into a private country club for the purposes of playing golf. Don't confuse it with women's suffrage.) Burk began to speak out in ways that made her look grasping. She tried to inject herself into the fight for higher salaries in the WNBA, a league she knows nothing about. The WNBA is just a few years old; it has no roots in the American sports soil. Many women who play in it are grateful it's here at all so they no longer have to go overseas to play professionally. Tomorrow the WNBA could dry up and blow away like tumbleweed and barely be missed. Can Martha Burk guarantee those women new jobs?
Burk inflamed others when she shoehorned the war in Iraq -- and our female soldiers -- into her Masters broadsides. First, Burk suggested the Masters should be canceled "out of deference to our fighting men and women," clearly showing she has no understanding of the diversionary role of sports during wartime. (Didn't she pay any attention to the cathartic effect of sports in the aftermath of Sept. 11?)
Then Burk admonished CBS for televising the Masters, saying it was an insult to all women in the U.S. military. At a time when women soldiers are being killed and held as prisoners of war in service to our country, it seems a stretch to equate that struggle with the attempt to put a rich woman inside the Augusta National locker room. As is using the word "segregation" to describe Augusta National. Are we to believe that integrating a lunch counter is the same as having a pair of size 5 pink and white Dry Joys cleaned by a clubhouse attendant?
Look, I believe that because of the way Augusta National courts the public dollar and public approval during the Masters, it should take in women members. I believe women should be able to have access to a golf club to entertain clients and do business the same way men do. I hope someday Michelle Wie gets to play the Masters -- and wins it! But we aren't in Iraq to ensure this. By binding the Masters together with this war and female soldiers Burk has diminished her issue and reduced her relevance. (When she found out she wasn't getting prime real estate for her protest, she sneered, "Party revelers are taking precedent over legitimate protesters." Hey, loosen up, it's a golf tournament, not an anti-nuke rally.) Lately, every time Burk opens her mouth, she seems to be out-Hootieing Hootie.
Sadly, I've run out of space before I even had time to talk about Tiger Woods going for an unprecedented third straight Masters jacket. But because of Martha Burk I don't have to talk about it. You can settle back and watch it all on TV, without commercial interruption.