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No Ladies Days on Augusta Calendar

Golf: Chairman Johnson doesn't react well to letter that asks club to have women members before next year.


Golf's next big rivalry, is here, although it's not what we expected.

It's not Tiger versus Sergio, or Tiger versus Mickelson, or even stripes versus plaids.

It's Hootie Johnson versus the National Council of Women's Organizations.

Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters, is angry that Martha Burk, chairwoman of the women's group, sent him a letter last month, urging him to open the club to women members before next year's tournament, thus avoiding having tournament sponsors associated with discrimination.

Augusta National has no official policy that excludes women, but no women are members.

In a three-paragraph statement released Tuesday, Johnson called Burk's letter "coercive."

"We do not intend to be a trophy in their display case," he said.

Johnson added that he would make no further comments on the issue, predicting that women would be invited to join Augusta, but at a time chosen by the club.

"Not at the point of a bayonet," he said.

Contacted in her Washington office Tuesday, Burk seemed bewildered. She said a three-sentence letter from Johnson had been delivered to her desk only minutes before Johnson's written statement was released to the media.

"I am shocked," she said. "I expected a reasonable response. What he said to me in the letter was, 'I'm not going to talk to you.' I think it is significant, if I think about it, that I did not release my letter to the public. I was not looking for a public fight over this. Johnson chose to make it that way."

Augusta National, formed as a private club in 1932 by golf legend Bobby Jones, invited its first black member to join the club in 1990. Lee Elder had been the first black pro to play the Masters in 1975.

The club, which has about 300 members, permits women to play the course as guests. Karrie Webb and Kelly Robbins of the LPGA Tour played the course in the spring. Johnson invited the University of South Carolina women's team to play as his guests. Burk said she would continue her crusade. "This is really wrong for the 21st century," she added. "I expect at some point we will try to have some dialogue with the [Masters tournament] sponsors, given the fact that Augusta National will not talk to us at all."

Johnson made that point clear in both his letter to Burk and his official statement, which said:

"We hope Dr. Burk and her colleagues recognize the sanctity of our privacy and continue their good work in a more appropriate arena."

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