That, of course, would be the Masters, and the exclusionary policies of the Augusta National Golf Club. Not much has changed in the 10 years since activist Martha Burk put up a stink over the males-only membership policy, but the matter has been raised once again in 2012 because IBM, one of the tournament's primary sponsors, had the audacity to select a woman as its CEO (the nerve!). At least four of the company's previous chief executives have been Augusta members, though it's unclear whether the woman in question, Virginia Rometty, is even interested in belonging to any club that would reluctantly have her as a member. As usual, the neanderthals who run the place insist that membership to the private club is a private matter. But IBM is a big, visible company and its logo will be all over the course this week. LAT columnist Mike Hiltzik takes a swing:
Augusta has maintained its indefensible men-only stance long past the point at which it should have joined the modern world. And even an abrupt about-face by the club wouldn't cleanse the hands of the public corporations that have chosen to play the role of enablers of Augusta's discrimination, such as IBM and tournament co-sponsors AT&T and Exxon Mobil, for all those years. All three companies pay lip service (at least) to diversity and corporate citizenship. How can they justify promoting an enterprise that flouts those same principles? Compare their behavior to the 1986 decree by Arco, then the largest corporation in Southern California, that it would no longer pay dues for executives at clubs that discriminated against women and minorities. The two downtown clubs that were most affected, the California and Jonathan clubs, altered their behavior pretty promptly.
Augusta's claim of principle would be more convincing, if marginally so, if its record of discrimination were not so lengthy and contemptible. The club opened in 1933 and didn't admit its first black member until 1990 (the honor went to a Virginia television executive). One can only hope that Augusta didn't pat itself on the back too strongly then for standing up for the principle of equality set forth by Martin Luther King Jr., since King had been dead for 22 years at the time. This is what made Johnson's claim in 2002 that Augusta provides an opportunity "for men of all backgrounds to seek a place and time for camaraderie with other men" reek of hypocrisy, for it hadn't been so long before then that a man's "background" had counted for a lot at Augusta.
Keep that backstory in mind this weekend when you hear the CBS announcers whisper in reverential tones about what a swell place Augusta National is. Check out this nonsense from a network promo: