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Solheim Cup at Augusta?

Holding women's event at home of the Masters is suggested as a way to quiet the debate over female membership.

November 20, 2002|Lance Pugmire and Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writers

With the hope of extending an olive branch into the divisive debate over the absence of female members at Augusta National Golf Club, John A. Solheim, whose parents founded the international women's golf competition known as the Solheim Cup, has suggested playing the event at the club.

No one at Augusta National would comment on the idea, but insiders suggested that it might be something chairman Hootie Johnson would consider, if he were convinced it would provide a way out of the conflict over female membership.

In a prepared statement, Solheim, the chairman and chief executive of Ping Golf, the company created by his father, Karsten Solheim, said, "It's always been my dream to hold the Solheim Cup at Augusta National. There is always a right time for everything."

Since 1934, the Masters tournament has been the only professional event held at Augusta National. The Solheim Cup, considered the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup, is biennial match-play competition between teams from the U.S. and European professional tours. It has been played since 1990.

"I think it would be wonderful to have a women's tournament there, because Augusta is one of the truly great American golf courses, and it was designed to showcase all of golf -- men's, women's, seniors," said Amy Alcott, a 1999 hall-of-fame inductee from Pacific Palisades who won 29 LPGA Tour events.

With the next Solheim Cup date in the United States already secured -- the 2005 event will be at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. -- and the 2007 event scheduled for Europe, the earliest the Solheim Cup could be played at Augusta National is 2009.

Those who have most staunchly criticized Johnson said their calls for female membership would not be muted, even if it were announced before next year's Masters that Augusta National would host the 2009 Solheim Cup.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who last week promised to organize a massive picket-line protest outside Augusta National during Masters week next April if the club didn't halt what he termed "gender apartheid."

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, agreed that the far-off date probably dooms the Solheim Cup scenario as a solution to the Augusta National membership issue.

"No, I'm sorry," Burk said. "It's a start, but if they're going to do it then, why not do it now? Seven years from now, girls in high school will be out of college and probably still can't be a member at Augusta National.

"A Solheim Cup [at Augusta National] would be insufficient. It would be a nice gesture, but only in conjunction with opening the club."

Since June, Burk and the NCWO have waged a campaign to pressure Johnson and Augusta National to admit a woman as a member before the 2003 Masters. Last week, Johnson reiterated that there is no timetable for inviting a woman to join the club.

Jackson said anything less than the addition of a female member was unacceptable.

"Hootie should join the spirit of the times," Jackson said. "You can't be a little bit right on this issue, just like you can't be a little bit pregnant."

Alcott refused to comment on the female membership debate, but said she would aspire to serve as the U.S. team captain if the Solheim Cup were ever played at Augusta National.

LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw said he could not comment on the Solheim Cup possibility, pending his state-of-the-tour message to be delivered today at the Tyco/ADT Championship in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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