“It isn’t about women. It’s simply about golf.” Is it?
Last week Condoleeza Rice was basking in the glow of being the first among two women to be invited by the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club to become its member, the other beneficiary being South Carolina banking billionaire and philanthropist, Darla Moore. An ebony and ivory moment, if you please!
But yesterday, the 57-year-old former US secretary of state had to face considerable embarrassment when about a dozen members of Code Pink, a radical feminist group, attempted a citizen’s arrest of Rice at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, for “war crimes”. The former President George W Bush’s then national security advisor was one of the key figures who engineered the infamous invasion of Iraq in 2003 in which a few hundred thousands of people were killed, an invasion based on the dubious WMD (‘weapons of mass deception’) campaign.
“Arrest the war criminal Condi Rice,” the group charged, while carrying handcuffs to execute their purpose.
Dave Zirn’s stinging comment in The Nation entitled “Condi Rice’s Membership at Augusta National is Nothing to Celebrate”, had earlier noted, “In a sane world, Rice would be awaiting trial at the Hague. Instead, she gets to play golf at a club that, incidentally, didn’t allow African-Americans until 1990…”
In the context of an unjust world where the ‘Wild West’ buccaneers guilty of war crimes and military misadventures are feted as harbingers of democracy and development, peace activists have been repeatedly attempting their arrest – for example, former British premier Tony Blair, ‘Dubya’s’ comrade in arms during the Iraq war and equally guilty of having ‘sexed up’ the flimsy evidence at his end, has also faced ‘citizen’s arrest’ on a few occasions.
A woman of many accomplishments and a key proponent of the Indo-US civilian nuclear pact, Rice, the ultimate ‘power puff girl’, surely has earned her spurs by virtue of being a privileged associate of the military-industrial complex that rules America, patronises golf and wages war. Golf playing President Barrack Obama may be a Democratic and though he is a tad progressive on domestic issues, he is a hawk on foreign policy matters and on the same page as the Pentagon. The US PGA’s links to the Pentagon, which operates some 234 golf courses around the world, are par for the course!
As Bruce Selcraig revealed in his piece in Onthelinksgolf.com a few years ago, an overwhelming number of US PGA Tour players identified themselves as George Bush-loving, evangelical Christian Republicans who supported the US occupation of Iraq. A Sports Illustrated survey of 76 US Tour players at that time found that 88 per cent supported the American invasion of Iraq.
Symbolically, Augusta National’s benevolent chip may be a triumph for women’s liberation, but the storied club genuflection to public opinion has hardly anything to do with that sentiment and is utterly disconnected from the reality of daily life for millions of American women, Zirn has argued. As he points out, the other beneficiary, Darla Moore, is a longtime friend of the Bush family and former Augusta president Hootie Johnson.
Ten years ago, when faced with protests on the issue, Johnson said the club would admit women at its own pace and not “at the point of a bayonet”. Interestingly, when quizzed about the possibility of become the Augusta’s first female member at that time, Moore, once dubbed “the toughest babe in business”, had demurred, “I’m as progressive as they come. But some things ought not to be messed with.”
More interestingly, PGA tour President Tim Finchem, who made appreciative noises now — “At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport,” he cooed – shied away from handing Augusta a bogey when the fires were raging. Almost all of the PGA Tour players had likewise kept their counsel.
To recap, ten years ago, Martha Burk, then chairperson of the Washington-based National Council of Women’s Organisations, led a high profile protest over Augusta’s discriminatory policies and a boycott of the Masters’ corporate sponsors. She reportedly received dozens of death threats. The issue died down but was reignited last year when Virginia Rometty, the female CEO of IBM, which sponsors the Masters, was not granted honorary membership, traditionally accorded to the chief executives of the tournament sponsors. It sparked off a national uproar and an online campaign headlined “Augusta: Give Ginni Rometty the Green Members’ Jacket!”
Women, of course, were allowed to play at Augusta provided they were signed in by members. The highly secretive club has about 300 members, the known ones currently being corporate czars Bill Gates (who was ‘in queue’ for quite a while), Warren Buffet, Jack Welch etc.
The dogged male bastion in Georgia might have capitulated to the ‘weaker sex’ but around 25 all-male golf clubs in the US still continue to tee off with their status intact. They include the Old Elm, Bob-o-link, Butler National and Black Sheep (all in Chicago) and the Garden City Golf Club (New York), more well known by its other moniker, the “Men’s Club”.
Some of these clubs shut out women completely – one of them does not allow women to even drive into the parking lot to drop off their husbands or sons! Vince Solano, president of the Black Sheep Club told the ‘Chicago Sun-Times’ that his members did not see anything wrong with having a men’s only club, adding that “we don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves”. Of the 26 million golfers in the US, about a quarter are women.
Shockingly, the birthplace of golf, Scotland, owns up to similar practices. Some of its most revered outfits,the Royal and Ancient Golf of St Andrews (R&A), Royal Troon Golf Club and Muirfield Golf Club, are treading the same course. So does the Royal St George’s Golf Club in Kent, England, which hosted the Open Championship in 2011.
Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister, recently launched a blistering attack on St Andrews: “If Augusta can change, St Andrews can now change…Scotland must change – and end a basic discrimination that is an unacceptable blot on Scotland’s traditions of justice for all.”
Brown also noted the fact that St Andrews University principal Louise Richardson, whose position would normally guarantee membership of the R&A, had received no invitation from the club. The Rometty saga in a Scottish setting!
For Lance Armstrong, cycling was “not about the bike”. For Solano “it really isn’t about women. It’s simply about golf.” Really? For a sport which uncomfortably lumps about its historical baggage of elitism, racism and sexism, it’s all about power.
Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, explained to CNN a few months ago, “It really is ultimately about power, and Augusta National is a big symbol of the last bastion of male hegemony over economic issues, the place where big business deals are done among the biggest, most influential corporations in this country.”
Golf is in a crisis in the West because of oversupply of courses and declining numbers. A few years ago one of the solutions the industry came up with was to ‘grow the game’ by enticing women and new target groups to sample its wares. But when such archaic sentiments dictated by notions of power and exclusivity rule at the game’s hallowed precincts, it is a wonder how this antediluvian game has come so far!