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Augusta Likes Results of Poll

Survey shows most agree with club's decision on female members. Burk calls technique 'unethical.'

November 14, 2002|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Who's right in the continuing saga of whether to admit women to Augusta National Golf Club? In a national public opinion survey commissioned by the club and released to the public Wednesday, the results show wide support for the club's position of not changing its policy and inviting a female member.

The 48-question sampling, conducted by the Polling Co. Inc. and WomanTrend of Washington, a market research, public affairs and political consulting firm, was hailed by Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson as an important document.

"We have received an outpouring of letters, e-mails and phone calls encouraging us to stand up for our traditions," Johnson said in a prepared statement.

"It is enormously gratifying to see that a majority of Americans feel as we do."

Respondents answered a series of questions concerning Augusta National's right as a private club and how it might be affected by the campaign of Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations. Burk is spearheading a campaign to pressure the club to admit a woman as a member before the Masters tournament in April.

Johnson reiterated in a series of interviews last week that the club has no timetable to invite a female member. The survey is the second part of a new campaign by Johnson and Augusta National to seize the public relations initiative in the five-month-old controversy.

Burk's reaction was to spin the dispute in a new direction. Burk said she wants to discover what effect Augusta National's campaign will have on club members, especially those such as Lloyd Ward of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Kenneth Chenault of American Express and Sanford Weill of Citigroup, who made public letters they wrote in support of Burk's position.

"I heard from someone on the inside these coded words: 'They want to get rid of those New York CEOs anyway,' " Burk said. "This could be calculated as a move to gradually filter out those who disagree with Hootie. I'd like to know what kind of position this puts the members in, the ones who have taken a stand against discriminating against women."

Burk says Ward, Chenault and Weill pledged to work for progress from within and she wants to know the status of their campaign.

"We're not going to let [those members] get away with no answer," she said.

Typical of the items in the survey was this one: "Private clubs and organizations should change their rules when their members or their leadership decides to, not when one person who is not part of their organization criticizes them or pressures them to do it." The poll showed that 75% of men and 74% of women agreed.

The results of another question indicated a low awareness level of the controversy, where 59% of the respondents (46% of the men and 72% of the women) said they could not remember seeing, reading or hearing anything about the club in the last four months.

Another statement seeking a response was, "The Augusta National Golf Club was correct in its decision not to give in to Martha Burk's demand. They should review and change their policies on their own time, and in their own way." The survey showed 73% of the women and 72% of the men agreed.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 30-Nov. 4, with 800 people answering the questions.

Burk remained critical of the survey.

"It's a push poll.... You push the respondent to a certain answer by the way the question is worded," she said. "It's often used in political campaigns. It's considered a highly unethical practice."

The Polling Co. Inc. and WomanTrend have conducted surveys for such clients as Major League Baseball, Ladies Home Journal, the Department of Labor, Microsoft and Safeway.

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