When Tradition Impedes Progress


I am sure that many of you enjoyed ageless family traditions this past weekend; baking a delicious ham, hunting for Easter eggs, enjoying Seder dinner, or watching the Masters Golf Tournament.

Growing up, I remember sitting around with my family, cheering on Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Fred Couples and of course Phil Mickelson. The Masters triggers memories of spring, Easter, and family traditions.

This past weekend every time the TV was on, it was tuned into the Masters. Fred Couples held a brief lead and left us all with a sense of nostalgia. Phil, who is forever tugging at the heart strings of his fans, made a serious run to hold the lead. But in the end, no one could hold off the spunky Bubba Watson, not even Louis Oosthuizen with his amazing double eagle!

In between the actual coverage, CBS aired commercial after commercial of memories and historic events linked to Augusta National Golf Club. Like the one when President Eisenhower was playing at the club and hit a shot that resulted in a tree on the course forever being named in his honor. Between the commercials, commentary and coverage provided by CBS, you would think that Augusta National is true heaven on Earth, a beautiful, charming, and welcoming place to enjoy playing golf with your family. They portrayed belonging to Augusta as belonging to a piece of America’s history.  How blatantly inaccurate! Shame on you CBS for allowing anyone to think in such a way!

Here are a couple of facts about Augusta National Golf Club that I would like to point out:

  1. Until 1983 all of the caddies at Augusta National had to be black, a lingering remnant of the Jim Crow South.
  2. It was not until 1990 that the club admitted its first black member.
  3. Women are not permitted to join the club

In 2012 women are still not permitted to join the club!

“In 2002 Martha Burk, then chair of the Washington-based National Council of Women’s Organizations, publicly criticized the club over admission of female members to Augusta National. Burk contended that hosting the Masters Tournament at a male-only club constituted sexism.”

Augusta National Chairman, Hootie Johnson, characterized Burk’s approach as “offensive and coercive” and referred to Burk as a “man hater”.

This past Sunday, as Phil Mickelson finished his final round, he embraced his philanthropist wife and his three children before signing his score card.

As I was watching this unfold I wondered, does Phil Mickelson ever have to explain to his wife and daughters why they can’t be members at Augusta National, but he can be? What about past winners? What about current members who have wives, daughters, sisters…does anyone care? Cause I do!

I have two young daughters, and as a parent, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that in 2012 I have to explain to them that there are still places women are not allowed.

I care that professional golfers and famous members won’t address the issue. Is their membership to some private, exclusive club more important than doing what is best for societal progress? I care that CBS pretended that Augusta National is something it isn’t.

You know who else should care? IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

Augusta National has a tradition of bestowing membership to the CEO’s of the Masters three main corporate sponsors, one of which is IBM. The club has yet to decide if they will invite Rometty to join, and it will be interesting to see what will happen to sponsorship if they don’t. IBM and other companies have pressured golf clubs in the past to end discrimination. In 1990 IBM, with the help of other sponsors succeeded in getting Alabama’s Shoal Creek club to admit black members. It will be interesting to see how Rometty chooses to handle the situation.

My hope is that Rometty and IBM stand up for progress, because this is one tradition that needs to end!

2 comments on “When Tradition Impedes Progress”

  1. Wow- I had absolutely no clue about any of this and I am shocked that this can and still does go on! Thank you for bringing this up. I knew I disliked pro golf but I always just blamed it on golf being the single most boring “sport” I’ve ever seen…now I have better reasons. Yuck!

  2. Great post. I had an interesting conversation with my boss the golf fanatic on this one. Being the classic conservative, he reminded me that as a private club, Augusta can do whatever it wants, and that he wouldn’t do things any differently, although I reminded him that at the club he belongs to he was instrumental in getting the policy changed, years ago, so that women could play. He said that’s different because that’s what he wanted, but other people who run other clubs should be able to do what they want.

    Notably, in country clubs across the country, membership is limited to certain ethnicities: no Jews, Blacks or Italians need apply. The sad thing is, among the old-people set, there are still ethnic minorities who very much desire to be a part of these clubs. I look at Augusta, and the other places where things are still 1940’s throwbacks, and turn up my nose anyway. Someday soon, all these old white guys will be dead anyway and hopefully these institutions and their racist ideals will just die with them! We may not eradicate it altogether, but hopefully this kind of thing will get more negative press and fade into the fringes.

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