There are some things that enlightened people nowadays pretty much agree are beyond dispute. A good example would be the view that it is wrong to discriminate against women. And then there are things that enlightened people find themselves arguing about quite heatedly. An example of this would be the issue that has consumed the golfing world lately to the point of pushing tournament results right out of the headlines: Should Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, add women members under pressure from the U.S. National Council of Women’s Organizations?
Precisely because thoughtful people have found themselves in disagreement on the matter, the Augusta controversy is not synonymous with a debate about discrimination against women. Nobody on either side has argued in favor of discrimination. The clash between NCWO Chairwoman Martha Burk and Augusta Chairman William “Hootie” Johnson is rather about whether Augusta’s men-only policy qualifies as discrimination or not. That, and about how, when, why and under whose auspices change should come to certain bastions of “tradition.” The one thing it’s not is a clear-cut case of right and wrong. And that is why the editorial published by the New York Times last Monday calling on Tiger Woods to boycott next year’s Masters tournament in support of Ms. Burk’s campaign is so misguided.
For the record, Mr. Woods has made it clear that he personally favors membership for women at Augusta. “It would be nice to see everyone have an equal chance to participate,” he said after the British Open in July. Competing in Miyazaki this past week, he said it again: “Do I want to see a female member? Yes.”
Some might argue that by merely expressing this view, Mr. Woods has offered Ms. Burk a sufficiently influential gesture of support. But it’s not nearly enough for his critics, who believe Mr. Woods should do a whole lot more. In response to Mr. Johnson’s argument that Augusta, as a private club, has “a constitutional right to choose” its members, the New York Times argues that others, such as Mr. Woods and CBS Sports, which televises the Masters, have a “right to choose” not to support the club’s showcase tournament. But it then seems to confuse “right” with “duty,” devoting a whole paragraph to explaining why, as the game’s best player, Mr. Woods should indeed stay home next April. (The editorial writer forgot to say whether the newspaper would join him by refusing to cover the Masters in its sports pages.)
For sure, a boycott by Mr. Woods would generate massive publicity for the NCWO’s cause. It might even infinitesimally hasten the day Augusta considers admitting women — an end result that we, like Mr. Woods, support, with respect to any golf club, anywhere. It works very well for Japanese and nearly all U.S. clubs. What the critics fail to acknowledge, however, is that Mr. Woods doesn’t think this is the way to do it — not because he is afraid of controversy but because, first, he is not as sure as the NCWO is that Augusta doesn’t have a case based on the right of free association (“It’s a tough issue,” he has said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”) and second, because he objects to being manipulated so blatantly. “I like to pick my own causes and not be forced into having to do something,” he told an interviewer last week.
We believe that should be an end of the matter. Just because Mr. Woods is the game’s most gifted player does not make him a marionette, available to perform on cue, for this or that cause, whenever someone feels like pulling his strings. It is interesting, and unfair, that nobody has applied this sort of pressure to any of the game’s other top players, even though a mass boycott of the Masters would be at least as effective as a lone boycott by Mr. Woods. Why is that? Could it be that, as a person with African-American heritage, he is thought somehow to owe more than the other players to the world’s oppressed?
There are two answers to that question. One is that he doesn’t owe anyone any more than the rest of us do — small things like honesty and integrity, mainly. We think he has met those particular obligations very well in this case. The second is that he has already done much for the oppressed, both by his transcendent example as a sportsman and through the foundation he set up six years ago in the United States to help disadvantaged children and their families — arguably a more deserving class of people than the rich women seeking entry to Augusta (no other kind could afford it). Beyond that, what he should be doing is what he does every day anyway: concentrate on his game, on playing well and on forging some more of those timeless Sunday afternoon memories.
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