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Burk May Organize Masters Protests

Head of women's group is unhappy with Finchem's response to questions about relationship between PGA Tour and Augusta National.

October 31, 2002|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Besides flowering azaleas, the blooming dogwood, Magnolia Lane and Rae's Creek, here's something else you can probably expect to see at the Masters next April at Augusta National Golf Club -- protesters.

Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, didn't care much for what she learned Wednesday in PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's state-of-the-tour message, so Burk said there very well could be women's rights protesters outside the tall hedges and gates of Augusta National and stretching down Washington Road when the 67th Masters begins the week of April 7.

"If nothing has changed, I'm sure we're going to see some public demonstrations of unhappiness," Burk said.

At a news conference in Atlanta, Finchem was asked several questions involving the PGA Tour's posture regarding the Masters and Augusta National, which has no female members, and whether that stance runs contrary to the PGA Tour's policy of not holding tournaments at golf clubs with exclusionary membership policies.

It is the PGA Tour's position that because it has no contractual or co-sponsorship agreement with Augusta National Golf Club, the policy has not been breached. Finchem relayed this response in a four-paragraph letter he wrote to Burk on Aug. 20.

Finchem told reporters Wednesday at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta that his letter to Burk speaks for itself and he was not willing to elaborate.

"It's very straightforward in answering the question that she posed with respect to whether or not we would consider withdrawing recognition from the Masters as a major championship on our tour," Finchem said. "We said while we appreciated and respected her position, and we do, that's just something for all factors considered that we were not prepared to do. So we have been very clear on that."

Finchem had a less polished response when he fielded a question that hinted about a possible protest at the Masters and what his reaction would be.

"As far as I know, there's going to be a tournament at Augusta, the Masters, and it's going to be on CBS television and our players are going to go play," he said. "What else happens, I'm not going to speculate on that."

Burk expected something different from Finchem and said she was upset she didn't get it.

"I'm astounded," she said. "I expected him to try to justify what the tour is doing or make a comment that it's under review.

"I think he's dreaming if the PGA Tour continues to stonewall and it's going against its own policies. What he's done is to establish the PGA Tour as an arm of Augusta National ... a lackey. He hops to their tune. He answers to Hootie [Johnson] and nobody else."

Burk's group, a coalition of 160-member organizations, is waging a campaign to force Augusta to admit a female member by the 2003 Masters.

Burk contends that the PGA Tour is creating a double standard that benefits Augusta by counting the prize money for the season totals of players. And, by allowing the Masters to continue to receive recognition by the PGA Tour while the club "discriminates against women," Burk says the tour is giving its stamp of approval to the practices at Augusta National.

Burk said she has not spoken with any of the PGA Tour's primary sponsors -- Coca-Cola, Buick and Nationwide -- about the tour's position on Augusta National, but she said it is in her plans to do so.

Finchem said he has spoken with sponsors, but refused to explain the nature of the conversations. Instead, he stuck to his script.

"I'm not going to discuss what other conversations I've [had] with sponsors," he said. "I know you're going to try to move me out of the confines of my statement, but you're not going to be successful."

*

Goodbye Senior Tour, hello Champions Tour. The 23-year-old tour for professionals 50 and older will tee it up with a new name in 2003, Finchem announced. Also, Finchem didn't talk about it, but senior players voted two weeks ago to change the rules on carts in 2003. Caddies will not be allowed to use carts, but a player can ride a cart if he chooses.

Finchem announced one more name change. The Buy.com Tour is now the Nationwide Tour. Nationwide becomes the fourth title sponsor of the developmental tour since it began in 1990.

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