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Masters venue has had its fair share of controversy

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Next week, the greatest golf show on earth will be staged at the Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters Tournament, first among the golf majors, is truly one of the most talked about, most coveted golf trophies in the world. The Masters is the only golf major hosted at one venue and it’s a venue that has had its fair share of controversy since it was founded in 1933.

And whilst Augusta is probably best known for the Masters, its policies, past and present, have defined this American golf Mecca.

On 2nd April 2012, Karen Crouse, writing for the New York Times said: “For decades, the black caddies at Augusta National Golf Club — required by the club’s rules and treasured for their nuanced knowledge of the course’s topography — stood as a striking symbol of the sport’s segregated state.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/sports/golf).

In this piece, Crouse looked at what I may call the other side of the ‘only-caddies-rule’ at Augusta back then, focusing, not just on the obvious racial overtones but also on the financial consequences that followed the lifting of this Augusta rule that not only required all Masters competitors to use club caddies but that such caddies be black! Crouse quotes Clifford Roberts, one of Augusta’s founders and long term Chairman as saying: “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

Fast forward many years, and in 1997, long after Roberts had shot himself dead, Tiger Woods was victorious at the Masters – ironically, his caddy at that time was a white man.

But whilst many celebrated the end of the “club-caddies-only” rule at Augusta, in 1983, or the fact that each caddy had to be a black man, Crouse reminds us that the end of this era also marked the end of the “black caddie”.

And today across the major world Tours, few black caddies remain. “For a variety of reasons, no new generation has taken the bags from them (the black caddies). Caddying, once perceived as a menial job, has become a vocation for the college-educated and failed professionals who are lured by the astronomical purses driven by Woods’s immense popularity,” Crouse added.

The white boiler suits worn by all caddies at the Masters is a stark reminder of the caddy policy at Augusta National – that whilst Pro golfers are now allowed to bring in their own caddie, they must dress in the traditional uniform (https://www.golf-monthly.

The late Roberts, refused to allow an African-American to play in the Masters and it was not until 1975 that Lee Elder was allowed to tee it up at the event. It was not until 1990 that Ron Townsend became the first African American to be admitted as a member of Augusta National.

When Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters, he became the first person of colour to do so; Vijay Singh was the second and only other person of colour to win at the Masters.

In 2002, Augusta was thrown further into the limelight when outspoken political psychologist Martha Burk who was then the chair of the Washington based National Council of Women’s Organisations, wrote to Augusta chairman Hottie Johnson about the club’s ‘single gender’ policy, linking the policy to sexism and civil rights (USA Today). Burk averred that Augusta was not fit to host the Masters and in 2003 and 2004, Johnson dropped all commercial sponsors from their Master’s partnership obligations. But it was not until 2012 that Augusta caved in to pressure and admitted its first women members - Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

Back in 2002, Johnson said: "Our club has enjoyed a camaraderie and a closeness that's served us well for so long, that it makes it difficult for us to consider change," he said. "A woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is out in the future." (www.espn.com/golf). He went on to say: “One day Augusta would perhaps invite a woman to join but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet."

Enjoy the Masters.

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