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Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2002/ 27 Tishrei, 5763

Suzanne Fields

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Irritable men and mice in the divots | Are the guys at the Augusta National Golf Club crying uncle? (Or maybe it's "aunt.") Are they throwing out their ban on female members under a threat from the ladies?

Not exactly, maybe, but they're certainly puttering around the issue. This has to be the most elitist feminist fight in a long list of elitist fights. Getting one or two rich women into a golf club of rich men is not exactly the answer to Freud's much-debated question, "What do women want?"

For all the feminist talk about choice, they can't let men make a few choices for themselves. So far the feminists have only proved that men deserve a little time off, away from the likes of us. It's not as if women can't be invited to play at Augusta, where men are prepared to pay for their privileges. (Where are the men trying to break down the doors to join exclusive fitness clubs where women choose to perspire in private?)

In certain precincts, the contretemps at Augusta is taking precedence over what to do about Saddam Hussein. For readers who might have had their heads in a sand trap, the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, host of the Masters, is under attack by women who want to play on that hallowed turf without having to be a guest of a guy. William Johnson, chairman of the club (everybody calls him by his onomatopoetic nickname "Hootie") reacted to the request of the ladies with a hoot and a hissy fit: The very idea is "offensive" and "coercive."

"We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated," he said of a letter from Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, who claims to speak for 6 million women. "Our membership alone decides our membership - not any outside group with its own agenda."

Ms. Burk, a damsel who appears to be in great distress, threatened to go to the Masters' biggest sponsors - Coca-Cola, IBM and Citigroup - to demand that they quit doing business with the 300 male isolationists of the club. Hootie rode to the rescue of the sponsors, canceling the agreements to spare them feminist intimidation. Next year the Masters Tournament would be commercial free. The club would pay for the television time all by its very rich self. CBS will be compensated fully for lost advertising revenue.

This struck like a lighting bolt on the eighteenth hole. Spectators and players ran for cover from the torrents of rhetoric and gullywashers of recrimination. Even Tiger Woods was dragged reluctantly into the fracas, and said that a private club has a right to act like a private club. But the argument's not settled and no one has moved on to the 19th hole.

Several members of the club, none courageous enough to attach their names to their convictions, told the New York Times they want a "compromise," to admit one or two members of the female persuasion. One member says he only wants to do something to get his daughter off his back. Others, devious if not duplicitous, give Hootie the high five while knocking him behind his back.

This gives Ms. Burke and her feminist sisters the best of the contest so far. Says she: "I can't believe these titans of industry are meek mouses when it comes to standing up and speaking to Hootie Johnson." But it's not clear to me why in the world these women want to join a group of mice, or even men, who not only don't want them, but where even the mice seem to be suffering irritable male syndrome. Why not let them be irritable in peace?

"Golf is a constant struggle with one's self," writes John Updike. "It is a mode of meditation, a communion with the laws of aerodynamics, a Puritan exercise in inward exhortation and outward stoicism." If feminists really care about the glory of golf, they could establish an exclusive club of their own. They could get Barbra Streisand, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart (who could do the clubhouse) to back them. They might even invite Bill Gates to be a silent partner, since he was said to have been turned down for membership in Augusta.

The problem is that not many women will want to join an elite women's club and there's the rub. Women prefer men with their communion with the laws of aerodynamics, inward exhortation and outward stoicism, and that's fair enough. But surely the rich old geezers of Augusta National aren't their guys of choice.

Groucho Marx famously said he wouldn't be a member of a club that would take him as a member. Why should we want to join a club that accepts the likes of the geezers at Augusta?

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS