Monday, April 11, 2011

On The Masters

I never really felt comfortable at the Masters. I covered it several times back in the late 1990s, back when mid-sized newspapers still had the budget and the inclination to send their writers to major sporting events, and it always felt like I was wandering into a '50s theme park, a conflation of blooming flowers and aging white men and especially low-priced pimento cheese sandwiches. There is a high wall that separates Augusta National from Augusta itself, and on the other side of Washington Road there are chain restaurants and car dealerships and waitresses like the one I spoke to at the Waffle House one year, who had never been beyond the wall and imagined Augusta National as a naturalistic utopia just beyond her reach.

Now I understand that Augusta National is a private club, and so, at some level, if they prefer to only permit members with cleft chins, they are protected by the law.* But there has to be a balance here, because Augusta hosts one of the three most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, because they are essentially one of the faces of professional golf. And they seem to think that it is enough if they present a beautiful visage for television, if they charge modest prices for tickets and for parking and for souvenirs and for pimento-cheese sandwiches. It's as if, because they roll back their profit margin to the 1950s, their anachronistic exclusivity should be faulted--as if two-dollar sandwiches excuse an utter lack of female members, which leads to incidents like the one that occurred yesterday, when Bergen Record reporter Tara Sullivan, attempting to do an interview, was denied entrance to the clubhouse.***

And maybe Augusta National is telling the truth when they say that Sullivan's barring was a mistake. Maybe it was an honest misunderstanding, but these misunderstandings don't take place in more enlightened atmospheres****. These misunderstandings occur because Augusta National still clings to an outdated mentality that is no longer socially acceptable outside the gates.

Here's an uncomfortable thought: It's been almost 15 years since Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and there were no African-American golfers other than Woods near the top of the leaderboard yesterday. It's been eight years since Martha Burk's protest, and Augusta National (as far as we know) still doesn't have any female members. All those years ago, when I covered the Masters, we presumed that Tiger would influence an entire generation of minority (and even female) youth, that Tiger's mere presence would change golf itself. But I have to imagine it is still daunting for certain young golfers to make their way in a world that is largely upper-class and overwhelmingly white, in a game where the keepers of its most prestigious tract of land refuse to acknowledge that the world has changed.

*Honestly, I have no idea if that's true. I did not attend law school, and I do not have a cleft chin.**
**Not that there's anything wrong with that.
***And if you think women should not be permitted equal access to open locker rooms, please note that it is the law. You either open your locker room for everyone or for no one, and anything else is blatant discrimination.
****And that is the first and last time I will refer to a baseball clubhouse as "enlightened."

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