Spring has fully sprung, and that means it’s time for the biggest event in golf, the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
Dominating this year’s tournament news, along with the perennial “Does Tiger Woods still suck at golf as much as he does at marraige?” question, is the involvement of IBM CEO Virginia Rommetty. IBM is one of the Masters’ three biggest corporate sponsors (along with Exxon Mobil and AT&T) and makes a great deal of its advertising revenue from participating in the tournament. The tradition, though, at least for the past few IBM CEOs, involves Augusta National making IBM’s CEO a member of the exclusive golf club.
The issue this year, though, is that Virginia Rometty is a woman.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Rometty’s involvement in this year’s tournament was initially in question because Augusta National does not permit women to be members of its club. The question was raised as to whether Rometty would be offered the green jacket of membership due to her business position with the club’s biggest sponsor; it’s widely assumed that profits from broadcasting the Masters tournament largely sustains the club, so sponsorship is key.
“But wait,” you say, “how is it that something so publicly famous can get away with being exclusionary and blatantly sexist?”
Legally, a business does have the “right to refuse service” to anyone for any reason, except those as protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guarantees all people the right to “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
So, at first glance, Augusta National can’t possibly legally exclude women from playing its links as a member, right?
Women can play the course, as long as they’re there under the invitation of a current member. They can eat at the pro shop, whatever, they just can’t be members…because technically, Augusta National is not a “place of public accommodation” as defined by the law. They, as a private club, fall under the same umbrella heading as fraternities, sororities, and the Boy Scouts. Because they don’t operate open to the public, they can be discriminatory; it’s different than opening a fast-food restaurant and posting a sign saying “No Blacks Allowed,” which would be in violation of the Civil Rights Act because a restaurant (or gas station, or barbershop, or yogurt store, or goat factory, or whatever) is a “place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements or otherwise.”
Augusta National, just like the Boy Scouts, can legally exclude anyone for any reason because they exist as an “institution, bona fide club or place of accommodation which is in its nature distinctly private.”
So, legally, there’s no reason for Augusta National to include women if they don’t want to. No one would ask for girls to be allowed into the Boy Scouts, would they?
That settles the legal discussion…but, the more pertinent question, we believe, is should the PGA allow its biggest, most profitable event of the year to be hosted by an exclusionary club like Augusta?
We say no. It’s tricky, though, with the discussion of women and sports; the LPGA has been around for years and is mildly successful, so it’s not a question of whether women should be allowed to play professional golf because they already are. It goes to simple business sense: every year this question comes up about the Masters, and every year it’s a public relations hassle for the PGA, Augusta, and especially the corporate sponsors when journalists and the public asks them why this event continues to be celebrated at a club that bans women. Why let this continue? Why sponsor an event like this?
Golf enthusiasts will tell you “Because if it’s not at Augusta, it’s not the Masters, and if it’s not the Masters, who gives a shit?”
It would be as if the Super Bowl were played at a stadium that doesn’t allow women to buy hot dogs at their concession stands without a male season ticket holder present. The NFL would never allow this because it’s bad for business. It alienates fans, which diminishes the reach of advertisements and corporate sponsorship. The PGA is being irresponsible by allowing this to continue.
Should Augusta National allow women members? No, not if they don’t want to. They are a private club and it’s their prerogative to exclude whomever they choose. Should the PGA (as a national entity) support the club financially with a huge moneymaking event like the Masters? Absolutely not.