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Thursday, April 10, 2003
Updated: April 11, 9:19 AM ET
Who is the real master?

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

In early 2002, in a fit of prescience, the National Geographic Society decided it wanted a story about aspects -- geographic, animal, vegetable, mineral and otherwise -- of a certain slice of Augusta, Ga.

Augusta National
At this year's Masters, something smells funny among the magnolia trees.
Anticipating the shape of things to come, National Geographic magazine tapped your boy for the duty for a 1,000-word "Zip USA" story. I had 30904 -- the Zip that included, among other things, Augusta National Golf Club. I was to try to make sense of it all, find a telling theme, in a thousand or so words.

National Geographic was denied a credential for the 2002 Masters by the Augusta National Golf Club, which cited as its reasoning that a Zip USA story could be about anything in that "Zip" code, not about Augusta National itself. The implication was that Augusta National was a theme alone, not standing on anyone else's back, or at their side, for that matter. It would not sully its reputation by potentially being cast in the same set of photographs with the rabble, or the help. Or, since you bring it up, the womenfolk, either.

I spoke to Glenn Greenspan, media liason between Augusta National Golf Club and the rest of the world. He was nice. He sent "Masters" press guides and such to me; they tell you everything about it, except what you want to know.

So, I went to Augusta to see for myself.


They might just as well have taken a "Hell No, We Ain't Forgettin'!" sticker off the back of a pick-up and wrote it up purtier as a template for the etching on the statue on Broad Street downtown that speaks to the time in the long-dead past when the "Masters" came into being.

Martha Burk
All Martha Burk wants is women members at Augusta National.
The "Masters," and all horrors its name implies, was born akin to the statue that honors the Confederacy on Broad Street downtown. Its etching says, "No Nation Rose So White and Fair, None Fell So Pure and Free of Grime."

No need to dwell on it, though. There's newer stuff around now to occupy you. There's an art gallery across the street from the statue. There's a colored guy in there, acting like he knows something about art. Jessye Norman, the opera singer, has an ampitheater named after her, bisecting the freshly bricked Riverwalk. Over to Fox's Lair downtown, good white guys to know -- the ones in the law business, ex-sheriffs, bailiffs, bail bondsmen, lawyers, and what-not -- were getting hozzled, and I don't mean golf clubbed.

One lawyer with a practice on his boat said, "Hell, idjit, don't you know nothing? Discotechque over there's for the po' folk; the real jizz goes on up in the big houses, upland, uptown, not down here ..." He said the big houses would be rented out for that week for 10 and sometimes 20 thousand dollars -- the higher price fetched three "Masters" Patron Badges instead of two; "'maid service' is included, if you know what I mean ..." That's a direct quote. "But you didn't hear it from me. You don't know my name."

"Yes, you do," said the black barmaid. "Jack Boone, Jr."

Jack Boone Jr. squirmed, chafed, then pleaded with her, "Aw shoot, Doris," although her name was not Doris. He told -- asked -- the barmaid to top off his drink. She did while giving him a look. Not so free from grime was he.

"Wow," I thought, "there are a lot of interesting things about Augusta and mastery that aren't in a press guide."

I found that, black or white, the general consensus was that the founders of the "Masters" tournament, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, were making a social statement, too; they weren't just holding a tournament, or, as it's called here, a "too-na-mint."

For example, for years, the unwritten, understood rule at Augusta National and the "Masters" was, golfers were white, and caddies were black, and never the twain should meet otherwise. There was even a written Caucasians-only restrictive covenant that wasn't officially struck until 1961. Very odd in a way, because the whole place is crawling with blacks and women. I mean, literally crawling with them. But between the "Masters" and "Gone With The Wind," a semblance of honor could be regained for the Old South. It wasn't all bad. Some of it was ever so grand ...

Martha Burk and Hootie Johnson
The battle between Hootie and Martha goes beyond the gates of Augusta National.
Yeah. Right. Whatever.

That's just the way it was in Augusta, for what seems like many years, an Old Testament eternity, but actually isn't. The "Masters" tournament isn't even 70 years old.

Hell, Earl Woods alone is as old as the "Masters."

Lee Elder shakily stepping up to the first tee box was the first black man to play -- officially play --at Augusta National in the "Masters," in 1975.

Tiger Woods was not even born by then. In fact, if you look at it, he was born on December 30 of that same year, so he would have been conceived about the time of the 1975 "Masters," in which Clifford Roberts dryly shook hands with Lee Elder, and unbeknownst to him at the time, inspired Earl Woods, not to join a club, but to embrace his wife Kutilda. Now, not half a lifetime later, Tiger Woods is the "Masters" tournament's great champion of champions; his brown skin and the hint of epicanthic fold at his eyelids did not stop Life from happening, even out of chaos.

So now, is 2003 Women's Day at Augusta?

It isn't, it will be.

There is no edict making it so.

No letter or protest will announce it.

No refusal or bewildered denial can stop it.

Life just happens, and continues to go along. It's chaos theory, and here's how that theory works: There is no barring life, segregating it, no stopping it for long. Sometimes there can be rushing it, or delaying it, or killing it, trying to bury it; but there's no stopping it. It happens. Martha Burk can ride the wave, but she didn't start it, and she can't stop it. Her protest will seem to fizzle out this weekend, at the 2003 "Masters," but that won't matter a tittle. Barbara Eden is out of the bottle.


Let me add that not being credentialed didn't keep me off the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. Got me a "Masters" practice round pass that normally would've cost $21. Then I was driven right onto the grounds by the very same guy, a hotel shuttle van driver, who gave me the pass. His humility made my station possible. His position at my service made my position inside meaningful.

The track was real nice. Green as hell. Real flowery, too.

Anyway, what I found out in the rest of 30904 and Augusta proper was that the person running the town wasn't the male news anchor-turned Mayor; he thinks he's running it, he gets credit for running the town, they hang pictures of him around town, but it's run by the Clerk of the Commission, Lena Bonner. And a helpful, efficient woman she is, too. The best hotel restaurant in town was run when I was there by a woman restaurant manager, an Italian expatriate named Donatella Armstrong. She was engaging, pleasant, full of ideas. My guide to Augusta and 30904 was another woman, a lawyer named Lourdes Coleman. Even one of my editors at National Geographic is a woman named Jennifer Reek. On top of that, my mother is a woman. How about you?

Augusta National
It's a slippery situation on and off the course at Augusta National.
It seemed delusional, as homo sapiens, as mammals, to think you could segregate yourself from that from which you come. Consider the source of our comfort and desire.

You see? You don't? Well, I'll keep trying. Roll over and ask your significant other, "Honey, what do you think about women as members of Augusta National Golf Club?"

Notice how she replies. Does her reply reflect total honesty, what she really thinks, or how she knows she has to handle you on this subject? It's a loaded question. It goes beyond Augusta National. Should a woman be free, is what you're asking. Even the ones who say they don't care -- it's just tactical, whether they are actually aware of it being tactical or not. They are saying that to continue to survive in the manner to which they have become accustomed. As one long-time black Augusta caddy who's worked with Gary Player among others told me, "I try not to make enemies out of rich folks." Note that he didn't say white folks, or menfolks, or Republicans. He said rich folks.

Lourdes Coleman gave me a verbal key to Augusta. We were driving downtown, along James Brown Boulevard, then past the seedy Discotechque, where for years a stripper called the Snake Woman was a highly paid entertainer in the scuzzy downtown flats during "Masters" week. Then we drove by a new school for the arts, John S. Davidson School of Arts, named for a long-dead former civic leader and elected official from way back, way before even the "Masters." My friend the woman lawyer from Augusta smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said off-handedly:

"He was a segregationist, but what the hell."

That said it all, to me, about the "Masters," and Augusta.

And it was a woman who said it.

If the scions of Augusta National asked a wise old woman, or one of the old black caddies, they'd say presumed social mastery was like a speed bump, a footnote; pretentiousness stops nothing from happening in the fullness of time. Might stop individuals, here and there, but it does not stop Time, or Life from moving on downriver, into the tide of Time.

That's one sure thing. Plus, there's another.

To paraphrase from another context, women are the rake.

It doesn't matter how low or high you go, women are the rake. Plus they inherit the earth. Or at least the money.


A Jonathan Ernst photo, accompanying my pedestrian Zip USA piece in the April 2003 issue of National Geographic, is of one Butch Littles, a former highly coveted caddy at Augusta National Golf Club, and at the "Masters."

Hootie Johnson
Hootie announced that the members have his back.
Butch Littles had more than a passing resemblance to Snoop Dogg. Picture, if you will, Snoop Dogg in shades, a golf hat and pants emblazoned with little green golfers, riding in a cart, around Augusta Municipal Golf Course, talking about how he used to caddy at the "Masters," and, how, when no was looking, he also learned how to play there, at the course that was supposedly forbidden to him.

Actual humanity -- black, white, red, brown, women, men, hermaphrodite, giant, dwarf -- are implacable in their ability to evolve past current dangers and circumstances; whatever kills them at some point eventually will only make them stronger -- and more adept -- at some future point.

As a species (too bad Stephen Jay Gould is dead, he could tell you there is an infinitesimal difference between human beings within the species, and you might even believe him, too, since he was a light-skinned man), we will improvise, adapt, overcome. It is as inevitable as the pendulum of time. There is no "wait, be patient" to it, and there is also no rushing it, and there is no putting it off.

As for women, they are the rake, and you can pay them now or you can pay them later, but they will ... Get ... paid.

Before the National Geographic article came out, Butch Littles died of a series of heart attacks. He left a small legacy to be overseen by guess who?

His wife.

The wisest "Masters" know well what the rest of us know, that the operative words for peace and tranquility, in this life and beyond, are not "bayonet point," but "Yes, dear."

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."