Augusta’s Women’s Amateur is a half-step in the right direction
Rejoice! Hallelujah! Huzzah! Women are coming to Augusta National. Brian Wacker on a changing time.
It was only 15 years ago that the late William ‘Hootie’ Johnson, chairman of the executive committee at Bank of America, a member of the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame and then chairman of the lil’ ol’ golf club at 2604 Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, issued a pointed statement in response to then National Council of Women’s Organization chair Martha Burk’s contention that because the Masters was hosted at a male-only club it constituted sexism. Johnson’s response, in short, was “We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated... at the point of a bayonet.”
Times change, thankfully, and the mood was much more conciliatory when Fred Ridley, in his first major appearance as the club’s new chairman, announced on Wednesday of this year’s Masters that the club would create and help host the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship next year. It’s a great idea, the objective being to grow the game of golf and to benefit women’s golf at all levels.
“This is a dream come true,” said Hall of Famer Annika Sörenstam, who was present for the announcement. “It will be an exciting carrot for these young amateurs.” Indeed it will be. It’d just be nice if it included the rest of the salad, too.
While most certainly a step in the right direction, the 54-hole tournament will be played the week before the 2019 Masters, with the first two rounds at a nearby course and only the final round gracing the gilded grounds of Augusta National on Saturday April 6. Good. Just not good enough. Why not hold the entirety of the tournament there? Things move slow in the American South and even slower down Magnolia Lane.
The other big problem would be that the LPGA’s first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, takes place the week before the Masters and grants a half-dozen exemptions to the best female amateurs, who’d have to choose between playing in a major or at Augusta National.
Perhaps I’m just greedy. I like more than a dangling carrot. But I’m also happy to see this progressive step, one of a few taken in recent years by the club. Asked what motivated him to help grow the women’s game, Ridley said, “I just felt that there was an opportunity to make a statement as to how we feel about this part of the game. It was time to do that. I happen to have three daughters, and they all love golf. I know they’re going to be really excited about this.”
And that’s great. I just hope they ask him when their fellow women will be able to play an entire tournament there.