In 1987, during an in-depth interview, Barbara Walters pointedly asked actor Sean Connery why he chose to play golf only with men. It was a typical Walters question, the kind designed to skewer movie stars, to embarrass them, to put them on the defensive—even to provoke anger or tears, if she were lucky. But 007 was unmoved. No anger, no tears. Instead, sizing up Walters with his classic James Bond, shaken-but-not-stirred insouciance, he replied politely, "Well, Barbara, when I play golf, I prefer the company of men."

Now it was her turn to squirm. The simple honesty of Connery's response was unexpected, and try as Walters might, she could not extract any concession of moral failing in what was for Connery simply a matter of taste about his personal leisure activity. Sometimes guys just enjoy hanging out with guys. No offense intended.

Much Offense Taken

It is a sign of our culture's ever-declining respect for individuality that such a remark, if made sixteen years later, would probably render Connery a target for Martha Burk, president of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO). And if Connery were a member of Georgia's prestigious Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC), any corporation he led would most definitely appear on the NCWO's Web site www.augustadiscriminates.org and in its "Hall of Hypocrisy."

The site—an artless arrangement of corporate and institutional logos (including Harvard University, Motorola, IBM, CBS, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Morgan Stanley, AT&T, Ford, GE, Franklin Templeton Investments, and many others)—asserts that these organizations are "headed by executives who, by their membership in Augusta, blatantly sanction sex discrimination." And with a clarion call to action, the site provides "names, companies, products, corporate codes of conduct, and contact information" in the hope that "you will make your feelings known to the individuals involved."

The hastily constructed Web site was just one more shot in a barrage of protests aimed at forcing Augusta National to admit a woman member before its 2003 Masters Golf Tournament. If the club failed to knuckle under, Burk threatened, pickets would picket, demonstrators would demonstrate (think phalanxes of women marching in green burkas—as if Augusta officials were Taliban killers), corporations would be denounced, members would be embarrassed, the club would be shamed, and God knows what else.

In pursuit of her threat, Burk filed for a permit to demonstrate—a one-day application to protest on April 12, the third day of the tournament—but was met with resistance in the person of Sheriff Ronnie Strength (sic) of Richmond County, who, citing safety and liability concerns, declared that sidewalks and virtually all public property in and around Augusta National were off limits to demonstrators. According to Strength, demonstrators would be confined to several designated protest sites. Bristling, Burk argued: "To protest, you have to have access to the people that you intend to influence." and refused to rule out the possibility of illegal protests (New York Times, February 25, 2003). Obviously, Burk's understanding of individual rights is rather shaky. A person' right to protest cannot compel one's target to witness the protest.

But sensing the strength of Strength's resolve, Burk scaled back her protest plans, asking for twenty-four protesters at the club's front gate and two hundred more across the street leading to the club. Feeling good about her overture of temperance, Burk said, "I hope they [ANGC and the city] will be pleasantly surprised by the reasonableness of the request, and I hope that they will see we are not looking to disrupt either the tournament or the city" (New York Daily News, March 7, 2003). Notwithstanding Burk's self-proclaimed generosity, permission was granted for Burk to protest; however, it was restricted to a 5.1-acre area owned by the club approximately a third of a mile from the club's entrance. Crying foul (or perhaps "fore!" in this case) about "pushing us down the road," the NCWO, with the help of the ACLU, filed suit with the Federal District Court of Northern Georgia (New York Times, March 13, 2003).

One might wonder whether, with Americans fighting in Iraq, Burk would think twice about trying to seize media attention from the nation's deepest concerns. Well, she has thought twice: "I don't want to trivialize ourselves or in any way trivialize legitimate anti-war protesters, either" (New York Daily News, March 11, 2003). Heaven forbid the kids at Berkeley might not get their mindless chants heard on network television!

As in many high-voltage media cases, the ANGC controversy attracted pilot fish hoping to scavenge scraps of public attention. Among these hangers-on were Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Jackson promised to help organize picket lines and also to offer people less enlightened than himself "mass education" in the form of leaflets and discussions. He was granted permission to place an additional one hundred protesters at another protest site. In addition, Jackson vowed to bring his practiced talent for extortion to bear; he calls it "speaking to" sponsors, members, golfers, and TV networks (Golfweb Wire Services, November 15, 2002). Then the Ku Klux Klan got on board (in reaction to Jackson's presence), as well as a group calling itself WAMB (Women against Martha Burk), which planned to demonstrate in downtown Atlanta the week before the tournament. Not to be outdone, three newer groups followed close behind: Todd Manzi and his Tampa-based anti-Burk Web site, TheBurkStopsHere.com; People Against Ridiculous Protests; and the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, another anti-Jackson group.

Presumably finding herself in unsavory company, Burk whined that her organization should take precedence because hers was the first to apply for a protest permit: "I believe that everyone should understand the concept of first come first served. The fact that other groups want to protest in the area that we asked for first should be irrelevant" (The New York Times, March 13, 2003). Strength suggested they all get along and get together to discuss how they will share the land.

Trying to capitalize on the circus atmosphere, Burk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Augusta National welcomed the KKK's support "because they seem bent on discriminating against women at any cost." Later, apparently realizing the impropriety of such a statement, Burk retreated, saying the comment was "tongue-in-cheek" but maintaining that Augusta National has not renounced the Klan: "If the Nazi Party jumps in next, are they still going to remain silent? At what point is too much?" (New York Daily News, March 2, 2003).

At what point, one might ask, does the woman responsible for this freak show decide it is all "too much"? In the apt words of Glenn Greenspan, an Augusta spokesman: "For our critics to try to capitalize on this sideshow is utterly reprehensible and has no place in any civilized discourse…. Hate groups of any kind have no place in decent society. It shocks the conscience to see our critics would suggest that Augusta National feels otherwise. Burk has gone completely and shamelessly beyond the pale and is losing any shred of credibility she had left" (New York Daily News, March 2, 2003). He could have said: had to begin with. 

How It All Began

Burk, who calls herself a "political psychologist," is an old warhorse with solid connections in the feminist establishment. She was active in the Senate confirmation fights against Clarence Thomas and, in fact, compares the fight against Augusta with the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill affair. The issue, she says, is "about how guys can use you . . . then privately devalue you as a person" (The New Yorker, February 17 and 24, 2003). The remedy for this imagined personal abuse supposedly lies in the political arena: Apparently, men must be forbidden those moments of privacy during which they might plot their sinister devaluing of women.

At any rate, Burk launched her current war in June 2002 by sending a letter to William "Hootie" Johnson, the ANGC's 71-year-old chairman, urging him to open club membership to women and end Augusta's sixty-nine-year history of male exclusivity. In response, Johnson—an intensely private man, especially in matters involving Augusta National—offered up a veritable tirade. In a scathing, three-page statement to the media, he defended Augusta National's rights and traditions as a private club and declared in no uncertain terms that there would not be a female member anytime soon. Moreover, he said, in his most memorable phrase: "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet" (Golfweb Wire Services, December 2, 2002). Hootie had taken the bait, and, where Barbara Walters had failed to unnerve Connery, Burk had succeeded in provoking Johnson to react defiantly and emotionally. "I thought initially that our letter would help the internal advocates [of granting women membership]," Burk said. "I thought change was in the wind. I had no idea there would be such a defensive, belligerent, and out-of-control response" (PGATOUR.com, November 11, 2002). If she were lucky, the old man's tears would come soon.

Having drawn first blood, Burk wasted no time. She went to IBM, Coca-Cola, and Citigroup—the Masters Tournament's TV sponsors—hoping to convince them to withdraw their involvement, which amounts to footing the bill for the huge prize money. After all, she railed, "It's women's dollars that make it easy for these guys to join clubs like Augusta. Their hypocrisy is palpable" (Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 2002). Of course, anyone who makes any money at all does so by earning it from customers. So, by Burk's logic, no one may spend his money without first getting the expenditure approved by his customers. That is "stakeholder" theory with a vengeance.

Feeling protective about his loyal sponsors, Johnson was able to recover from his emotional misstep and undercut Burk by taking the sponsors out of the equation—the Masters would pay for itself and the tournament would be broadcast commercial-free, the only such sporting event on network television. Burk countered by aiming at the heart of American golf itself, the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA), knowing that the PGA had a policy of not holding any of its tournaments at golf clubs that practiced exclusionary policies. (The tour stopped playing its events at male-only clubs in 1990.) To the PGA, Burk repeated her demand that—unless a woman were admitted to Augusta National—the tour must stop recognizing the Masters as an official event. In her eyes, that would accomplish two things: It would pressure ANGC to admit a female member, and, "More importantly, it would put the PGA tour on record of standing behind the principles it claims to have" (Golfweb Wire Services, October 30, 2002).

But not so fast. The Masters, like golf's three other major championships—the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship—is not an event co-sponsored by the PGA and not under its control. Nonetheless, all four majors are considered "official" PGA events, and any money earned at the tournaments is counted on the tour's all-important money list. In addition, all winners of the four major tournaments receive a five-year qualifying exemption on the PGA tour, a very coveted perk indeed.

Finally compelled to join the fray, PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced that, as far as he knew, the Masters was going to be played as scheduled, that CBS was going to televise it (as it has for forty-six years), and that he expected tour players to participate. In a letter to Burk, he reiterated that the PGA tour did not have a contract with ANGC, could not require it to follow PGA rules, and would not consider withdrawing recognition of the Masters as a major championship on the PGA tour.

Burk accused Finchem of creating a double standard by counting the Masters as an official event when it was convenient to the tour and "stonewalling" on the issue of ANGC's all-male membership: "If I were on his board, I would be asking who he works for: Augusta or the PGA tour? Clearly, the position he has taken is going to be an apologist for Augusta" (Golfweb Wire Services, October 30, 2002). But former PGA champion David Toms supported Finchem, saying that not counting the Masters as an official event "would be totally giving in to this liberal cause. We made a stance several years ago when we stopped going to clubs that discriminate. We've made our case on what we believe. Augusta National can take care of this" (Golfweb Wire Services, October 30, 2002).

Meanwhile, phones rang, letters poured in, editorials were tossed off, and talk shows feasted on the Mars-versus-Venus storyline. Johnson felt he had to bring his case to the people and to that end commissioned a national public opinion poll, conducted by WomanTrend, a research firm that specializes in issues of interest to women. The forty-eight-question survey began by posing queries about the First Amendment, about which women's issues were most important, then slowly eased into Augusta National's rights as a private club. Eight hundred people were polled from October 30 to November 4. The results: 62 percent supported ANGC's membership policy, and 72 percent thought it "correct in its decision not to give in to Martha Burk's demand." When asked if Augusta National was being fair to everyone, including women, "as long as it does not prohibit women from coming to watch the Masters," 66 percent agreed. Demographically, all respondents were 18 years or older. Fifty-one percent were women and 49 percent men. Forty percent were conservatives, 27 percent liberals, and 27 percent moderates. Only twenty percent were golfers. Sixty-five percent did not follow the Masters closely (PGATOUR.com, November 13, 2002)

Harry O'Neill, chairman of the Polling Review Board of the National Council on Public Polls, thought the survey included "terribly loaded questions" couched in "emotionally loaded" language. For her part, Burk called the whole affair a "sort of amateurish attempt to bolster their position against women" (PGATOUR.com, November 13, 2002). Responding to this criticism, Kellyanne Conway, president of WomanTrend, defended the validity of the poll, saying some of the questions invited disagreement. She added, "I'm not going to risk my reputation because a certain client wants a certain result" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 13, 2002).

Was Johnson right in throwing himself and ANGC open to public opinion? Fraser Seitel, author of the college textbook The Practice of Public Relations, felt that in the face of NCWO's pressure, "Augusta was clearly losing, and they were going to be losing further if they had not stepped up and stated their position. They would have lost by default" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 13, 2002). But Rene Henry, author of You'd Better Have a Hose If You Want to Put Out the Fire: The Complete Guide to Crisis and Risk Management, wasn't so sure: "I don't ever recommend fighting back unless you're right" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 13, 2002).

That, of course, begs the question. "We will prevail because we're right," Johnson declared. "How long…Burk and her agenda will be given a voice is up to the media," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal (November 12, 2002). "But how long the public will pay attention is another question." Obviously, Burk also understands that her crusade is a media show. On a December 16, 2002, segment of HBO's Real Sports, hosted by former Today Show anchor and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, she admitted that the Augusta issue was not even on the NCWO's top-ten list of sex-discrimination cases. But, as she put it, "I would kill for this kind of coverage on our other issues" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 13, 2002). Under the circumstances, Burk naturally does not seek to embarrass journalists as she does corporate types. For example, she never called Gumbel on the fact that he, too, is a member of an all-male country club.

The most fanatical of Burk's media allies is surely Howell Raines, the recently anointed executive editor of the New York Times. In the four months from August to December 2002, Raines's paper published more than forty stories, columns, and editorials. Jack Shafer of Slate brought together a number of comments on this obsession. Shafer's own opinion: "This sort of churning and whisking of yesterday's topic, adding new ingredients in incremental proportions in story after story until you build a 12-foot-tall meringue isn't news coverage, it's blogging!" He then quotes the New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu, who accused the Times of having, at Raines's insistence, "prodded and pulled the story, refusing to let it slip from the table of conversation." When Tiger Woods said that both sides have a legitimate position and that he looks forward to the day when women are admitted to ANGC, the Times was not placated. It urged him to boycott the Masters. Shafer quoted Jerry Heaster of the Kansas City Star as saying that the Times was engaged in costless posturing: "The New York Times should make its own statement by refusing to cover the prestigious golf tournament until Augusta National admits a female member." Echoing this, Shafer added, "If Augusta's ban is such a godawful thing…then where was the Times all those decades that the club was practicing its unholy discrimination—out shooting the back nine?" But that last criticism fails to recognize the difference made by the accession of Raines. A Southern liberal who teethed his political consciousness on the civil-rights movement, Raines apparently sees Augusta's ban on women members as no less obnoxious than racial discrimination. The irony is: Hootie Johnson was also a leader in the Southern civil-rights movement, more so than Raines.

Who Is Hootie?

If William "Hootie" Johnson died today, he would be thought of by millions as a misogynist hick with an absurd nickname, a troglodyte who stubbornly refused to allow women into the richest, toniest, most exclusive golf country club in America. Forgotten would be a lifetime rich in productive achievement and social activism. A successful banker, Johnson has overseen the donation of $15 million in charity over the past five years. He supported black legislators well before any of his contemporaries did; helped to integrate South Carolina's universities in 1968; worked behind the scenes to admit the first black member of ANGC in 1990; was a board member of the National Urban League and a trustee of Benedict College (an historic black institution). According to former South Carolina governor Jim Hodges, Johnson was the first businessman to lobby for the removal of the confederate flag from the state's capitol. He also persuaded New York financier Darla Moore to donate $25 million to the University of South Carolina (his alma mater) and insisted that the business school be named after her. As a result, said the New York Daily News (November 22, 2002), the Moore School of Business is the only division of a major university to bear a woman's name. Even more ironic, as chairman of ANGC he has allowed women to play the course without restriction (more than a thousand rounds last year) and has invited the University of South Carolina women's golf team to the club as his personal guest.

To the radical egalitarians of the New York Times, no doubt, Johnson's many acts of noblesse oblige should be damned for "oozing graciousness" (as they wrote in another connection). All good things—except the disarmament of murderous dictators—must be achieved at the point of a bayonet. Fortunately for Johnson, he seems to be a man who is comfortable about the way he has lived his life, whatever others may think.

Why ANGC Is Right

The issues in this dispute fall into three distinct categories: the legal, the ethical, and the psychological.

Legally, the ultimate issue is the status of individual rights, especially the right of private property and the right of personal association. As a private entity, located on private property, the Augusta National Golf Club ought to have the inalienable, unassailable, absolute right to conduct its affairs in any way it chooses, so long as it initiates no coercion. It should be free to admit or not admit women, Irish, blacks, Jews, American Indians, or any other sort of people it cares to invite or exclude. In doing so, the ANGC members would not be exercising any rights that they lack as individuals, nor would the individuals admitted or excluded have any of their rights violated.

To be sure, the United States has enacted many laws and regulations in the last forty years that sharply restrict the individual's right to engage in such private behavior as he chooses. In particular, the idea that freedom may be violated when a private organization is "affected with a public interest" gained prominence through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which declared that the owners of restaurants and hotels lost their individual rights of discriminating among their customers when they opened their doors to the public. Burk has tried to invoke a similar "public interest" qualification. Her Web site declares:

When a club such as Augusta holds a very public event and figuratively invites the world into its living room, and that event is broadcast on the public airwaves, it has by its own choice become a de facto public facility. We believe it has a moral obligation to abide by the standards of the public at large. And the public standards of America as a nation, and of its people, are clearly opposed to discrimination.

Jesse Jackson agreed, predictably: "This is a very national, public organization. It is as much public as it is private" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 15, 2002).

Fortunately, for Augusta National, these arguments are weak. That the ANGC holds a prestigious golf tournament every year and that CBS televises it do not make the club "a de facto public facility," any more than broadcasting an annual gathering of clan Drummond would change that family into a public organization.

Of course, the more basic point is that such a "public interest" exception ought not to exist for any private facility, not even restaurants and hotels. For an excellent explanation why this concept has no place in our law, the reader should consult Capital University professor of law David Mayer's talk, "The Welfare State vs. the Constitution," delivered at the 1998 TOC summer seminar.

With legal questions set aside, the key debate over the ANGC's policy is an ethical one. Although private racism ought to be legal, no Objectivist could hold that it is anything but viciously immoral. Over the last forty years, however, egalitarians have created a rainbow of other "isms"—such as sexism, classism, ageism, and speciesism—in order to imply that discrimination on the basis of sex, class, age, species, and so forth is no less evil than discrimination on the basis of race. Jesse Jackson put the issue with his distinctive subtlety, characterizing the whole affair as "[sexual] apartheid" and adding that "[sexual] bigotry is as offensive as racial bigotry or religious bigotry…. It is an insult to all that America stands for, and the sponsors should not participate, and members should either change the situation or withdraw. And I think the PGA has a big obligation to take a stand." Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, took the argument to its logical, androgynous conclusion: "There is no case for the single-sex organization, zilch, zero. There shouldn't be Boy Scouts, just Scouts" (The Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 2002).

In an interview with the Associated Press in early November, Hootie Johnson seemed incredulous that anyone could actually believe DeCrow. Seated in front of an original portrait of the legendary golfer Bobby Jones, painted by President Dwight Eisenhower, he said: "Racial discrimination and [sexual exclusivity] 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" (Golfweb Wire Services, November 11, 2002).

He would have been more accurate if he had said: Nobody should accept them as being the same. Many institutions have perfectly sound reasons for admitting members of only one sex: Smith College, the Junior League, sororities and fraternities, and, yes, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. To take only the issue of same-sex schools: Harvard's liberal sociologist, the late David Riesman, believed in them strongly, especially for boys. He understood that there are times when mixed company can interfere with the task at hand, such as concentrating on schoolwork.

This brings up the third level of analysis: the psychological level. Sometimes, "the task at hand" is nothing more than enjoying the pleasures of recreation, and there are occasions (as Sean Connery understands) when mixed company can diminish that pleasure. The explanation is rooted in the principle of psychological visibility, first enunciated by Nathaniel Branden. (See his The Psychology of Self-Esteem,32nd anniversary edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001, Chapter XI.) In simple terms, psychological visibility is the principle that other people allow us to experience ourselves perceptually. As Branden puts it:

When others react to a man, to their view of him and of his behavior, their reaction (which begins in their consciousness) is expressed through their behavior, through the things they say and do relative to him, and through the way they say and do them. If their view of him is consonant with his own and is, accordingly, transmitted by their behavior, he feels perceived, he feels psychologically visible (p. 201).

This ability to perceive our own consciousness perceptually, through reflection, is a profound psychological need, as profound as the need to perceive our view of the world perceptually in art. Of course, there are as many levels of visibility as there are of aesthetic enjoyment. But, at its highest, psychological visibility requires that we find alter egos, who face life as we face it, who see that we face life similarly, and who project in behavior their understanding that we face it similarly.

To say this is not to say that members of one's own sex provide the greatest sense of psychological visibility. Far from it. The issue is complex, but as Branden writes:

There are aspects of this ability [to make others visible] which are best achieved with members of one's own sex. A man knows what it feels like to be a man in a way no woman can know; a woman knows what it feels like to be a woman in a way no man can know. But a wider range of possibilities can be explored between members of the opposite sex (The Psychology of Romantic Love, New York: Bantam Books, p. 93, emphasis in the original).

Implicitly, it seems, Burk does know that receiving visibility from members of one's own sex can be a healthy phenomenon—but only for women, not for men. Witness her astonishing statement to Peter J. Boyer in The New Yorker. When questioned about the possibility of a benign exclusion of one sex or the other in a private, social setting, she confessed: "I myself have what I call the 'girls' dinner.' Just some of the women in the women's movement, and we get together for dinner. Women in Congress do it, too." So why should men not be allowed to gather in exclusivity and enjoy similar pleasures? Burk's answer: "It is because, when men get together, denigrating women is often part of the social interaction. When women get together, denigrating men is rarely done. It's just not even on the radar screen. Even among the so-called strident feminists of the women's movement" (The New Yorker, February 17 and 24, 2003).

In the first place, this represents gross stereotyping, the very sort of stereotyping that feminists have accused men of indulging in. In the second place, it is so blatantly false that it fails even as a plausible stereotype. In the third place, Burk's statement makes one wonder about her claim regarding the private discussions of "strident feminists." If Burk truly believes that men are as patently disgusting as she proclaims, is it plausible that "strident feminists" might occasionally denigrate men in their private conversations? Why not? Burk denigrates men in public interviews.

The fact is that a man can derive a healthy pleasure from the company of other men, just as a woman can derive a healthy pleasure from the company of other women. In either grouping, some badinage about the opposite sex may take place, but it is typically good-natured and seeks only to underscore the nature of masculinity or femininity rather than to denigrate the other sex. Evidently, the members of Augusta National Golf Club do derive pleasure from the visibility generated by the company of other men. To seek to deny them this pleasure is not to engage in any noble opposition to a practice that is illegal or immoral or psychologically perverse. Quite the contrary. It is to demand that human nature be lashed to a Procrustean bed built to fit one's own rationalistic theories of what human beings are like.

That experiment has been tried too often, with results too dire, for anyone in the twenty-first century even to propose it innocently or benevolently.



Donate to The Atlas Society

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please consider making a donation. Our digital channels garner over 1 million views per year. Your contribution will help us to achieve and maintain this impact.

× Close Window
Anthem Slider

Newsletter Signup

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive the most recent news and articles directly to your inbox.