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Friday, November 1, 2002
Taking all the fun out of The Masters




Martha Burk wanted the Augusta National Golf Club to include women in its membership. So far, nothing on that front. But if this is any consolation, she has helped to reorder The Masters as The Greater Augusta Open.

Golf World magazine, which in all likelihood is the only publication interested in publishing this news, has reported that several companies have canceled rental house reservations in the Augusta area during Masters Week and are not planning to hold their annual parties therein.

Augusta National
Since Martha Burke began lobbying for women to become members at Augusta National Golf Club, clouds have gathered over the once prestine course.
These companies include Coca-Cola, IBM, Citigroup, Georgia Pacific and American Express, all of which could afford to hold a party for Methodists in the Vatican. Thus, we can ignore the possibility that the cost of canapés has risen in these worrisome economic times. In fact, the stock price for pigs in a blanket has held firm while tech issues are dying every day and CEOs are being led off by cops while wearing their overcoats as a hat.

Instead, this is corporate fear at its finest, with the result being that five months from now, The Masters will be awarding its traditional gray jacket to the winner.

Now we hold no particular truck with either side of this issue, largely because we don't care. The rights of oppressed women everywhere are unlikely to be materially affected by Burk's campaign, yet Masters uberlord Hootie Johnson still ends up coming across as a strap of leather in a suit.

Otherwise intelligent, well-off and sensible people come across like utter mopes -- why, it's democracy in action.

But when the corporate parties start pulling out, it is an indication of a sea change outside the ropes, and the end of some of the odd festivity that is The Masters.

In other words, it is beginning to look like the flower of professional and amateur golfdom are going to descend on Augusta to play the Greater Greensboro Open, as catered by a group of breakaway Amish.

Gray jacket? How about gray jacket and a shawl, and the winners trophy replaced by a butter churn? How about the holes at Augusta National renamed to fit more in line with the new, austere Masters --- the I Am Unworthy 4th, Ostentation Is The Enemy Of Our God 8th, and of course, Free Yourselves From Earthly Wants Or Else, And Can I Get An Amen Corner.

Indeed, there are few things as entertaining as watching The Law Of Unintended Consequences working at its muscular best, as it is here. Ms. Burk thought Mr. Hootie would cave under the unassailable logic of her position. Mr. Hootie thought Ms. Burk would cave under the weight of his intransigence.

And everyone thought Tiger Woods would take a position on the issue. And please stop laughing.

What we do know, though, is that neither Ms. Burk nor Mr. Hootie thought that the real casualty of this war would be the gin fizz.

Of course, none of this will actually affect the golfers themselves. Their greatness as players is found in their ability to crowd out all other conditions in search of a clear shot to the green and a true putting line. The world is someone else's problem, especially during Masters week.

And CBS would sooner give up its portion of the NFL package than let The Masters go to another network, especially over a fight in which it has a dog on each side.

But The Masters is more than a golf tournament. It is one of the principal demonstrations of wealth at leisure this nation has, a look at the really good life in a town where a Krispy Kreme outlet is no big deal at all.

And when that wealth starts getting the squirmies, so much so that it is ducking the best vehicle it has for mining new suckers ... er, clients, well, something is afoot here.

We're not sure what it is, exactly, but it is changing part of the character of the tournament, which is exactly what Mr. Hootie doesn't want, and exactly what Ms. Burk didn't have in mind when she picked this fight.

I mean, a major tournament without corporate parties is not all that far removed from the city championship at Funkytown Golf Links, Bar & Grill. And The Masters is far from the FGLB&G city championship as squab is to chicken on a stick.

At least it was before Prohibition hit town, and the rich folks started salting their party money away for that Lakers-Kings playoff rematch. At least there you get some real bang for your boilermaker.

Which, after all, is still the point of giving the rich free passes to the games, right?

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com



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