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Why Women Will Play In The Billyball League

by Alf Nucifora

I consider myself an average sports fan. I read the sports pages, go to an occasional baseball game, follow collegiate sports, particularly NCAA basketball and generally ignore the rest. But there are certain aspects of the sporting world that I find absolutely mystifying. Take Nascar, for instance. I know it's the fastest growing spectator sport in the U.S., but I still don't get it. For me it has the emotional appeal of cockfighting blended with the intellectual stimulation of mud wrestling. I clearly remember attending one event and walking away with a massive headache resulting from the inhalation of enough toxic fumes to rival the Chernobyl spill. Yet with 40 million hard core fans supporting the sport, how can I be so wrong and they so right?

The other one I don't get is golf, and the almost religious reverence for the Masters. In a sprit of full disclosure, let me tell you that I played the game in my youth and even in college. I found it mildly entertaining but never on a par with a good World Series or running the Peachtree. In truth, I'm with George Carlin on the subject of golf, that it's essentially an elitist game, played primarily by aging white males, with limited fashion sense, who hit a little white ball with a stick, pick it up, and hit it again. From a television viewer's perspective, it has all the appeal of watching evaporation in a salt pan.

Agreed, the Masters has its moments. The azaleas delight the eye. Watching Tiger Woods play is always a treat, in much the same way that watching the maestros, Ali, Gretzky or Jordan quickened the pulse and reminded you that you were in the presence of tactical geniuses and human beings touched by God. And I appreciate the concept of tradition that the Masters so ably propagates. I've absorbed the histories of Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. But let's wipe away the Vaseline haze and look at what we've got through a clear lens.

First, it's in Augusta for God's sake, a place without the history, charm or beauty of a St. Andrews or a Pebble Beach. I've got nothing against Augusta, per se. It's just not a place of physical beauty, vibrant culture or any outstanding claim to fame. An Athens, Savannah or Charleston would have made a more fitting home. And beyond Bobby Jones, what tradition are we talking about here other than a group of old white guys and business tycoons hunkering down in their private world of exclusion and privilege, a place where blacks serve the iced tea and that other minority group, females, do would good Southern ladies are expected to do, stick to their own clubs-- the home, the family and the quilting bee or knitting circle. The place still reeks of the fifties--very Eisenhower, very Greenbrier, lousy cuisine, (so I'm informed), genteel manners and professed indignation at anyone who has the temerity to question or disparage its heritage or tradition.

Billy to the rescue

I've sung Billy Payne's praises before, in this column to be precise. I believe that he remains one of Atlanta's unsung heroes. The history books will one day acknowledge the singular role he held in dreaming the dream, articulating the vision and making the Olympics happen. Complain as we all have about the shoddy execution, the fact remains that because of one man's determination, Atlanta aced far better candidates, got the Games and has prospered ever since.

It would seem that challenges have a way of attaching themselves to Billy and does he have a doozie of a challenge ahead of him in his new role as Chairman of Augusta National. Let's face reality. This issue of non-admission of females to club membership or the links is not going to go away. It will be addressed and Billy will make it right for the ladies. Not immediately, but certainly within the foreseeable future, let's say the next two to three years. And why will he do it? Because ultimately, it's the right thing to do; and because he understands that tradition doesn't trump equality, fairness and respect for wife, daughter or sister, at least not for those who have progressed beyond the nineteenth century. He'll do it with grace and without Hootie's bayonets and windmills.

Billy will also understand that golf, for a long time has been a static sport with inherent liabilities based on an aging demographic, time demands in a time-constrained society (who can truthfully afford the hours to play thirty six holes anymore) and escalating cost. Have you priced out club membership costs recently or the price of round? Just as Tiger revived interest in the game, female prodigy Michelle Wie will be the second act in a continuing drama. Does the Masters really believe that it can keep her or others like her, out? Hell, forget fairness, think of the lost television viewership and revenue alone. It's not a matter of if, but when. I'm taking bets gentlemen.

Oh, and about that argument that private groups have a right to practice exclusion as they see fit, as long as public funds are not at stake. I subscribe to that belief. This is America, after all. But I would submit that any event that generates millions in revenue and broadcasts to 14 million viewers on the average is hardly akin to a meeting at the local Masonic Temple or garden club. The Masters is a business, big and bold and bountiful. And its parent excludes fifty percent of the population for reasons that still haven't been fully explained other than "It's our tree house and girls are not welcome". I keep asking myself, what difference would it make to admit females? Who does it hurt? What are we protecting here other than male pride and obstinacy? Opposing arguments and bitter confrontation in the Israel-Palestine face-off? That I understand. But anger, spite and spittle generated by the need to preserve an archaic tradition? That one escapes me.

Oh, and one more thing. About that Harradine and Harpy, Martha Burk? Well you may not agree with her tactics, but if I remember correctly, the civic fathers and men-in-full said the same thing about Rosa Parks. You may not like her style but Burk forced the issue onto the front pages, got the old guys riled, embarrassed the sponsors and in the process probably trimmed fifty years off the time it would normally have taken to bring Augusta National into the 21st Century. In marketing circles, we call that a successful campaign.

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