Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

The Masters…

April 7, 2012 3 comments


Augusta National Golf Club

The golf world is focused on Augusta, Georgia again as the Masters Tournament gears up. This year, the tournament is cloaked in controversy as IBM Chief Executive Officer, Virginia M. Rometty is not granted the honorary membership that is customarily given to the corporate sponsors of the Masters. The private club that is the Augusta National Golf Club does not, and will not, accept women as members of this exclusive club at this time. In the 21st Century this offends many, but should shock few.

The Masters. The name of the tournament seems to tell you everything you need to know. In the Deep South, a culture that has a history tangled with the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, we ask Black America to celebrate an event called “The Masters.” In 1975, in the wake of death threats, Lee Elder broke the color barrier  and became the first Black golfer to play the fabled course at Augusta National Golf Club, though membership was still a far-fetched thought for him personally. Since 1933, the former indigo plantation has been a preserve and time warp for discrimination and degradation with slow movement from policies that excluded Blacks, Jews and women.

Over time, and due to the financial, political and social realities of the world, Augusta National had to let go, at least nominally, of their some of their prejudices.  Jews were the first to be allowed to become members of the club. Then, in 1990, as the ascent of Tiger Woods as a powerhouse golfer was becoming clearly inevitable, Blacks were allowed in the club as something more than the caddies or the servers – they were members of the club.

But changed attitudes don’t happen overnight – especially in the South and in a sport like golf. In 1997, as a dominant Tiger Woods was winning his first Masters tournament, veteran golfer, Fuzzy Zoeller made a remark about “that little boy” and told the group assembled to urge Woods not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Championship Dinner for the following year. But what is more important is that Zoeller’s remark seemed to suggest an undercurrent of permissive bigotry in the PGA, which reflects a mindset in America that hasn’t gone away in the passing years.

Here we are in 2012. Along the way, there have been attempts to bring Augusta National Golf Club fully into the 21st Century with women as members. Martha “Hootie” Burk tried to help Augusta to see the light in 2002, to no avail. But Virginia Rometty had a unique opportunity. She had “green”mail. In other words, she had the coercive force that being a multi-million dollar sponsor should bring. Sponsors shape the behavior of the event they are sponsoring all the time. Why didn’t IBM’s Board of Directors stand behind their CEO? How could this board literally sponsor discrimination against their chief executive? At a time when there is the perception there is a systematic offensive being launched on women, how could a business as savvy as IBM not hedge its bets and decide to come down on the right side of history? The situation creates more alarming questions than reasonable answers.

I wish I could explain why Ms. Rometty isn’t wearing an ugly green jacket as she walks around the picturesque, yet historically oppressive grounds of Augusta. There are all sorts of plantations, aren’t there? I guess the one that Ms. Rometty is working now comes with golden parachutes. If they beat you in corporate America, it is the psyche that is scarred, not the body. In the final analysis, I suppose I take comfort in the fact that at least Ms. Rometty isn’t being required to serve the drinks to her guests in a Hooters Girl outfit, rather than the green jacket her position demands, at the Masters. Membership isn’t the hallmark of freedom. But what Ms. Rometty has chosen endure sounds perfect for a tournament called “The Masters.”

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Copyright 2012

Kimberly S. Jones

Categories: Culture, Golf, Race, Women