The city of Augusta, Ga., illegally restricted a small protest last year against all-male membership at the home of the Masters, a federal court in Atlanta ruled Thursday.
The National Council of Women's Organizations tried to picket outside the private Augusta National Golf Club during the tournament, but local officials cited security concerns and forced about 50 protesters to move half a mile away.
Martha Burk, head of the women's group, sued, saying the decision was based on her group's views. She took special exception to an ordinance, passed a month before the protest, requiring a permit for any assembly of five or more people.
In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance was illegal.
"The County cannot seriously believe that political expression involving as few as five people is likely to disrupt traffic, disturb the peace, threaten public safety and require advance notice to public officials," the judges wrote.
Burk's group didn't send any protesters to this year's tournament, citing the restrictive ordinances. But the group might return to Augusta next spring, she said Thursday.
"Our 1st Amendment rights have been vindicated," she said. "I hope the rights of women to walk through those gates as the equal of men is coming soon."
Augusta National has not had a woman among its 300 members since it opened in 1933.
Cameron Beckman handled the windy conditions at the MCI Heritage at Hilton Head, Island, S.C., shooting a four-under-par 67 for the highest leading score in the opening round at the Harbour Town Golf Links since 1992.
Beckman made a 16-foot birdie putt on his last hole, the ninth, for his 67 at the 6,973-yard, par-71 seaside layout.
Two years ago, Davis Love III, the defending champion and a five-time winner of the event, opened with a 62. In 2001, Vijay Singh and Doug Dunakey posted 65s to share the first-round lead.
Jonathan Byrd was tied with Heath Slocum, British Open champion Ben Curtis, Rod Pampling and Jay Haas at 68.
Cristie Kerr was in her element in swirling winds, shooting a three-under 69 to share the lead with three others in the Takefuji Classic at Las Vegas.
Jackie Gallagher-Smith, second-year pro Stacy Prammanasudh and rookie Nadina Taylor also were three under.
Grace Park, who won the year's first major title with her victory in the Kraft Nabisco, opened with a 72. Aree Song, a 17-year-old rookie who finished second to Park in that tournament, shot 73. Defending champion Candie Kung struggled to a 75.