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Q&A with Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson

11/11/2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In his four years as chairman of Augusta
National, Hootie Johnson has revamped the qualifications for The
Masters, eliminated the lifetime exemption for past champions and
orchestrated massive redesigns of the golf course.

Each decision was accompanied by only a few words of
explanation.

But when the head of a women's group wrote to Johnson in June
demanding that the club invite a female member, the 71-year-old
chairman fired off a scathing, three-page statement to the media
defending Augusta's traditions and rights as a private club.

He has kept silent as Martha Burk of the National Council of
Women's Organizations has campaigned against sex discrimination at
Augusta National. The Associated Press sat down with Johnson on
Nov. 4 in his second-floor office, whose walls bear a photo of
Johnson and former chairman Clifford Roberts and an original
portrait of Bobby Jones painted by President Eisenhower:

HJ: There's been so much speculation about when we are going to
have a woman member at Augusta. And I thought we ought to get the
record straight.

We have no timetable on a woman member. And our club has enjoyed
a camaraderie and a closeness that's served us well for so long
that it makes it difficult for us to consider change. As I've said
before, a woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is
out in the future. And in the meantime, we will hold dear to our
tradition and our constitutional right to choose and associate.

Q: Would you ever consider canceling the Masters?

A: No.

Q: Under any circumstances?

A: No. There will always be a Masters.

Q: Even if you felt this debate had reached a point that it was
starting to tarnish the image of the Masters or the club?

A: I don't see that happening. The majority of Americans are
with us on this issue. I want you to know that.

Q: How do you know that?

A: I just know it. I know it by the response I get here. (He
points to a letter on the coffee table, with a Lancaster, Pa.,
newspaper clipping of a poll. Of 624 people, 90 percent said
Augusta should not have to admit a female.) And I also know it
because we're right. You know, some of the media tries to portray
us -- or this woman portrays us -- as being discriminatory, and being
bigots. And we're not. We're a private club. And private
organizations are good. The Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts. Junior
League. Sororities. Fraternities. Are these immoral? But they're
trying to portray us as being discriminatory and being bigots. We
will prevail because we're right.

Q: One could make the argument that Augusta National is
different than the Boys Scouts because it hosts a very public golf
tournament, the crown jewel of golf, which generates a lot of money
for the club.

A: No, the membership does not benefit from the tournament. The
money goes back into the tournament, or we give it away.

Q: Would Augusta National be what it is today without The
Masters?

A: I think they go hand-in-hand. The two complement each other.

Q: It seems like the relationship with Augusta and The Masters
make it a very public staging. One of the questions raised is
should a public tournament be held to ...

A: We should be penalized for presenting something that's good
for the game of golf? Something that 150 million people watch
around the world? Something that's a harbinger of spring? Something
that is respected worldwide, probably is one of the top, if not the
top, sporting events? (Voice rising) And we're going to be
penalized for presenting that?

Q: How would you be penalized?

A: By suggesting we're going to lose our private-club status.

Q: You mention in your letter that Augusta was ''strongly urged
to radically change our membership.'' What did you mean by radical?
And would a female member be a radical change?

A: Yes. It would be a big change.

Q: And yet you allow women to play the course regularly.

A: Sure.

Q: What's the problem with having one as a member?

A: Well, (pause) we just don't choose to do that (long pause) at
this time.

Q: Is there any chance we'll see a female member by April?

A: No.

Q: Can you say how close you were to having a woman member until
this debate seemingly brought everything to a halt?

A: I would say that this issue being raised has had nothing to
do with whether we have a woman member or don't have a woman
member.

Q: Why send Dr. Burk a three-sentence letter, which is
consistent with your discussions on club matters, but then issue
three pages of a very terse and somewhat defiant statement to the
media?

A: She threatened us and she threatened our sponsors. We wanted
to let her and the public know how we felt about it.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: I seldom have any regrets. I don't look back much. I regret
that she threatened us. And I regret that she threatened our
sponsors.

Q: You also wrote that you wanted to avoid ''backroom
discussions.'' In light of the way this has transpired, would
backroom discussions have been better than having this splashed
across headlines?

A: If someone comes up to you and threatens you, or says that
''I think I'd like to move in with you,'' what do you say? ''Let's
sit down and talk about it''?

Q: Do you think the public's perception of The Masters has
changed because of this?

A: No. I don't think we've been damaged, for the reasons I said.
This woman said we're discriminating and that we're bigots. Most of
the media has picked up and focused on that solely.

Q: But I think one of the thoughts is that The Masters has
become public property.

A: But we're not. That's one week. Fifty-one weeks of the year,
we are a private club. And we do something good for one week, for
the sporting world, and we're going to be penalized?

Q: You did say in April you had no exclusionary policies. But
you also haven't had a woman here since 1933. How does that square
with the other?

A: It squares that we haven't felt a need to invite one, or that
we wanted to.

Q: That almost makes it sound like a woman has nothing to offer
to the club.

A: You're really trying to bait me now. Do you think girls have
anything to offer the Boy Scouts? Do men have anything to offer to
the Junior League? No. We're a private club. We have a right to
choose and associate with whom we please.

Q: There hasn't been a need to have one as a member?

A: I said we didn't choose to have one.

Q: You allow women to play thousands of rounds here. What would
be the difference of having one as a member?

A: Well, at the opening, I said that we enjoy our camaraderie
that I guess men enjoy. And Bobby Jones' kindred spirit. Do you
understand those terms, as far as men being together?

Q: Do you look at this more as a social club than a golf club?

A: It's a golf club.

Q: Do you think men and women can mix on a golf course?

A: Sure.

Q: Can the camaraderie not exist?

A: We have parties, four parties a year, and those are times
that we have this camaraderie and this closeness. There are no
guests. They are member parties. The members are together.

Q: You said you felt threatened by Martha's letter.

A: No. She threatened us. But I haven't felt threatened.

Q: What about Shoal Creek? Why did you not have a black member
until 1990?

A: Shoal Creek has got nothing to do with this. Nothing.

Q: Did you not have your first black member until '90?

A: Yes, but that hasn't got anything to do ... Racial
discrimination and gender are two different things. Do you know of
any constitutional lawyer that's ever said they were the same? Do
you know any civil rights activists that said it was the same? Do
you? It's not relevant. Nobody accepts them as being the same.

Q: How do you feel about comments from members who have ...

A: I'm not going to talk about members. We'll handle that
internally. We don't discuss member matters.

Q: Do you feel the club has put some of them in an awkward
position?

A: No.

Q: Did you get any indication from your television sponsors that
this might be a problem?

A: No. We just decided to let them off the hook.

Q: How far are you prepared to go without a sponsor?

A: We could go indefinitely. But I don't think we'll have to.
They'll be back. We'll have our sponsors back. Some sponsors.

Q: What makes you say that?

A: I just believe that we're right on this issue, and that
they'll be comfortable in sponsoring The Masters Tournament. There
will be sponsors that will be comfortable.

Q: Do you think they would have been uncomfortable now?

A: Yes. Obviously, that's why I let them go.

Q: Safe to assume you think this attention will go away?

A: I think so.

Q: Any idea when?

A: Smiles and shakes his head (no).

Q: Did you ever consider pay-for-view?

A: Shakes his head (no).

Q: Ever consider no television?

A: No. We'd like to bring The Masters to the 150 million people
out there. Why would we want to think about not having television?

Q: How many letters have you received?

A: (He points to four files on his desk, all bulging with
letters.) I don't know. What would you say that is, 400 or 500?

Q: Any negative?

A: A few.

Q: Do you read them all?

A: I read them all. They (club employees) fax them or send them
to me.

Q: Do you respond?

A: Every one.

Q: Pro or con?

A: No, we don't respond to the cons.

Q: Has anything Martha Burk said made any sense to you as a
businessman or civic leader?

A: I really haven't paid much attention to what that woman has
said.

Q: What has annoyed you the most?

A: I haven't been annoyed. That's not true. You'll have to let
me off on that. Well, this whole issue annoys me. One of the things
that disappointed me most is the press has not been fair in so many
ways. I know some of you people know us. But when she throws out
''bigotry'' and ''discriminatory'' ... if we're discriminating,
then all those other single-gender organizations are
discriminating. And they're not. It's a terrible thing if they're
accused of that also.

Q: Do you expect to see pickets outside the gates in April?

A: I predicted that some time back.

Q: How will you deal with that? What would you think about
protests or pickets?

A: Well, our patrons are ladies and gentlemen, and they'll
ignore any protesters that may be there.

Q: Do you care what anyone thinks about your club?

A: Sure. We like to be perceived as a good organization. And the
fact we present The Masters Tournament speaks very well. We do
something good. And Bob Jones, he represented integrity and honesty
and fairness and doing the right thing. We try to hope that it's
symbolic of our club and The Masters Tournament.

Q: Are you concerned about presentation of this tournament when
the focus will be on this issue come April? Makes you wonder if
anyone will realize Tiger is going for three in a row?

A: A lot of that depends on you folks, whether you want to focus
on an issue that really is not relevant after a while. It's not
relevant. But we won't be focusing on it.

Q: Your record as a business leader and civic leader, how much
you've done to promote civil rights. Do you fear people will forget
that? When people think Hootie Johnson, do you think they'll see
him as a chairman who said no to women as members?

A: No. I don't have any worry about that. We're doing the right
thing now. I'm comfortable with the way I've lived my life for the
most part. That doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes.

Q: How do you suppose Clifford Roberts would have tackled this?

A: I'd like to think that he and Bobby Jones would have approved
with what we are doing.

Q: Does Augusta speak with one voice?

A: That's a membership matter. I don't care to answer that.

Q. Maybe my questions are because I'm on the outside of the club
in the midst of a debate, and you are on the inside and not
affected in the least by this. You sit down with a chairman who
doesn't look any different than when he was talking about course
changes in March. You don't feel this is a problem, this attack on
the club?

A: I think we'll prevail -- that we're right, and we'll prevail.
It's unfortunate, but we'll prevail.

Q: What's unfortunate about it?

A: That we have this hassle. That ... let's just let it go at
that.

Q: Do you think many would be surprised to see a chairman whose
name has been used and abused over the last four months, who
doesn't look like he's lost a lot of sleep over it?

A: Well, I probably have lost some sleep. Really, the most
offensive thing is somebody calling me an ''old coot.''

Q: Do you not like the ''old'' or the ''coot?''

A: Both. (Laughing.)

Q: Do you think this has tarnished The Masters?

A: No.