Teed off by golf debate

Posted: Sep 04, 2002 12:00 AM
I may be the world's worst two-armed, two-legged golfer between the ages of 6 and 96. While I have seen "Caddyshack" at least a hundred times, I've never watched a televised golf event of any kind for more than 43 seconds. Every time I play the game, I'm mystified how it is I am expected to hit a two-inch-wide ball when it's sitting on top of the planet Earth, a 25,000-mile sphere spinning through space. So, as a matter of pure merit, I really couldn't give a rat's patoot if the Augusta National Golf Club became the new temple for the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, let alone if it admitted a few well-qualified female golfers. In fact, until the current kerfuffle made its way to the front pages, I had no idea that Augusta didn't accept women already. But as of now, I couldn't be a bigger supporter of the He Man Woman Haters Club of the links. If, like me, you normally bask in your golf ignorance, let me bring you up to speed. The Masters is like the Super Bowl of golf, and it's always played at the Augusta Country Club and has been broadcast by CBS Sports since woolly mammoths were a putting hazard. Augusta doesn't admit women as members, though they are allowed to play there -something many men-only clubs still prohibit. In June, the National Council of Women's Organizations launched a campaign against Augusta demanding that the club admit women. The feminist effort became predictably shrill when the ladies encountered resistance from Augusta. Hootie Johnson, the chairman of the club, said, "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership ... but not at the point of a bayonet." In response, the NCWO threatened to go after the event's television sponsors -IBM, Citigroup and Coca-Cola -with boycotts, letter-writing campaigns, foot-stomping and all other tantrum-like means at their disposal. Hootie Johnson called their bluff and simply canceled the sponsorships, entirely refunding CBS's share of the loot. So this year, CBS and the USA Network will carry the Masters without any commercials. We'll be treated to 12 1/2 hours of commercial-free live golf coverage over four days -that's only slightly more excitement than spending the same amount of time watching Michael Dukakis read a book. Regardless, I say, Go, Hootie! (Anybody named Hootie shouldn't expect to be called Mr. Johnson.) First of all, during a time when it's not outlandish to imagine corporate-sponsored funerals, anybody willing to turn his back on millions in sponsorship money on principle gets an attaboy from me. And that principle is worth defending. The NWCO derisively calls Hootie's all-male stance "bigotry" and "discrimination," as if all the troubles women face in America today would somehow be alleviated if a few female millionaires were allowed to join some 300 male millionaires on a good walk spoiled, which is how Mark Twain described golf. Well, call it what you like, there is an argument for permitting private organizations to determine their memberships -even if some of us think their criteria for membership are stupid, silly, arbitrary or even bigoted. Those who rant about "diversity" and "multiculturalism" think everyplace should look diverse but think the same "progressive" line. A richer multiculturalism would mean a multitude of different cultures interacting under the protection of basic civil rights. So, sure, some groups -like the Congressional Black Caucus, for example -should be allowed to exclude people on the basis of race. And some schools -Smith College comes to mind -should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex. And some institutions can be excused for being selective on the basis of religion like, say, the B'nai B'rith. When the Virginia Military Institute was tragically forced to enroll women, after more than 150 years as an all-male institution, the school's superintendent Gen. Josiah Bunting III -a Rhodes scholar and respected author -mourned to the New Republic: "Our opponents aren't even trying to see this institution as it really is; they're not interested in what Coleridge called `imaginative sympathy.'" In other words, those who sought to impose their own shallow definition of "diversity" on VMI couldn't conceive that maybe, just maybe, the school wasn't a hothouse of bigotry and that perhaps the culture would be richer with VMI left to produce unique men of character -and men only. Of course, we're all free to criticize such institutions for their "bigotry," whether its real or just perceived. And to that extent, the NWCO should be congratulated for making this a fight over public opinion instead of a legal fight. Then again, if the NWCO could drag Augusta into court, they'd do it in a heartbeat, so let's keep our applause down to a low and quiet golf course clap. Regardless, I wish there were a better poster-child for defending this principle than a boys club for millionaires and billionaires. But, alas, Augusta is one of the few places left that can afford to have this sort of fight. So: You Go, Hootie!