Paula Creamer, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2010 and is one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour, had an idea after watching Jordan Spieth win the Masters two weeks ago: Why not have a Masters for women at Augusta National Golf Club?
“I hope the Masters will consider a women’s Masters soon,” she tweeted. “They do so much to grow the game. Fastest area of golf growth is women!”
This past week, Creamer elaborated in an interview with the Associated Press: “It’s 2015. I think Augusta and the Masters and everybody with that event, they want to grow the game so badly. That’s what it is about — growing the game and giving people opportunities. . . . The [Drive,] Chip and Putt, all of that for kids to be able to come out there. There’s no reason why they can’t do that in women’s golf.”
Augusta National has changed considerably since Billy Payne succeeded Hootie Johnson as club chairman in 2006. The club has thrown its considerable weight behind the Asia-Pacific Amateur championship — giving the winner an exemption into the Masters, among other things — and started the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for kids two years ago, with the finals at the club on the Sunday before the Masters. Adults with a ticket can bring a child aged 8 to 16 to the Masters for free and, even though the Masters still limits its television coverage more than any other major, Payne has expanded the hours and included the Par-3 tournament on Wednesday in the TV package. In 2012, the club finally admitted its first two female members. It now has three.
Still, Augusta is Augusta and Payne’s first reaction to Creamer’s suggestion was to shoot it down.
“We have a very short member season at Augusta National,” he said. “It’s seven months only. The time that we dedicate to the preparation and conduct of the tournament is already extensive. I don’t think that we would ever host another tournament.”
Holding a women’s event at Augusta the week after the Masters (as Creamer initially suggested) would be virtually impossible. The USGA managed to pull off back-to-back U.S. Opens at Pinehurst last year but it has a much bigger professional staff than Augusta National and it was remarkably lucky to get two weeks of virtually perfect weather.
But a women’s Masters doesn’t have to be played in April. It should be played in October. As Payne points out, Augusta National shuts down every year from mid-May to mid-October. That allows the agronomy staff to take care of the course during the red-hot Georgia summers.
What then, could be better than to re-open the club a week early in the fall with a women’s Masters? This allows for a huge gap between the two tournaments and it doesn’t affect members. If more staff is needed to put on a second tournament, the club certainly has the money to do that.
In fact, the club would make money. CBS and NBC/Golf Channel would trip over one another fighting for the TV rights. CBS doesn’t want to lose the exclusivity it has enjoyed with the club for almost 60 years and NBC/Golf Channel would love to have a new major — men or women — especially now that the USGA has taken the U.S. Open and all its other events to Fox.
Yes, the final round would compete against the NFL on TV. Even so, the uniqueness of the event would draw viewers — more than the FedEx Cup events that are viewed (correctly) as a bunch of rich guys playing for a lot of money. But women playing for a major title at Augusta National? That would be worth watching. If the NFL monolith is too intimidating, schedule a Saturday finish against early college football games.
What’s more, the event would sell out about five minutes after tickets went on sale. The people who have never been able to buy Masters tickets would jump at the chance to walk inside the hallowed gates of Augusta National. Many Masters ticket-holders, who presumably would be given first dibs, would jump at the chance to spend a few fall days in Augusta. And the club would get an extra week of sales in the merchandise tent — which would mean millions of bonus dollars.
And, as Creamer points out, the event would grow the game. Women’s golf has a number of young stars but it still struggles for attention. Its majors don’t stir that much interest — even though there are five — but a major at Augusta National with the Masters’ imprint would demand attention.
The easiest thing in the world when an idea is suggested is to find reasons to shoot it down. Certainly, major details would have to be worked out — such as the LPGA telling the people at Evian that, sorry, even if we lose your sponsorship, we can’t just slap a ”major” label on your event anymore. Five majors is too many — six would be ridiculous.
But those are details and details can be worked out. Much like the Masters, the women’s Masters would be a week-long celebration of golf. Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez could fill the roles of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters.
It’s worth remembering that, for all of its tradition, the Masters is the youngest of the four major championships. There’s no reason it can’t begin building new traditions. The Masters is a rite of spring. The women’s Masters would be a wonderful rite of fall.