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Capitalism triumphs at Augusta
[April 14, 2003]

By S. M. Oliva

Mike Weir became the first Canadian, and first left-hander, to win the Masters. Weir triumphed in a one-hole playoff with American journeyman Len Mattiace after both players finished the tournament 7-under-par. Although the playoff was somewhat anticlimactic—a double-bogey by Mattiace—there was no questioning the drama of Sunday’s final round at Augusta National Golf Club. Indeed, as Weir made his final putt to clinch victory, one heard not just the cheers of Augusta’s patrons (please don’t call them “fans”), but the silence of defeat. Not Len Mattiace’s defeat, mind you, but Martha Burk’s.

For months Burk tried to destroy the Masters. Her alleged gripe is Augusta National’s lack of female members. But in truth, Burk’s interest morphed some months ago from fighting a perceived social injustice into destroying the Masters for the sake of destruction. Burk’s goal was to destroy not just the tournament but what it represents—capitalism, voluntary trade, and the basic concept of American freedoms. Throughout the past several months Burk enjoyed the support of numerous media outlets. But when Showtime came this Saturday—the day of Burk’s scheduled protests—her movement imploded, leaving her without a victory over Augusta, or even a sense of momentum.

Burk has portrayed her protest of Augusta as being a “moral” effort. She equates Augusta’s membership policies with racism and segregation. But that charge never comported with reality. Segregation was evil not just because the racism was overt, but because racist individuals were permitted to use the government—to use force—against those who did not share their viewpoints. Sports saw numerous examples of this, such as the policy of most southern colleges against playing schools with African-American students. In one infamous 1960s example, Mississippi officials went to court to prevent that school’s basketball team from playing a “racially integrated” team in another state.

Augusta National has never done any of this. They’ve never once attempted to impose their membership policies upon society at-large. This is what makes them different than the segregationists. Yet Burk has ignored this fact from the outset, arguing Augusta is “flaunting” its discriminatory policies. But on such flaunting has ever taken place. Indeed, most people were completely unaware of Augusta’s membership policies until Burk started screaming about it from the New York Times editorial page.

As for the policy itself, Burk simply misunderstands Augusta’s nature and motivations. The club is not some organized hotbed of misogynist sentiment, but a place simply wedded to its traditions. Augusta is a conservative institution reluctant to change. One can deride some of their policies as silly or antiquated, but there’s nothing insidious about them. Only an ignoramus of such matters, like Burk, would think otherwise.

But this entire incident was not just the result of Burk’s misunderstanding. Once she realized Augusta would not simply capitulate to her whims (the nerve!) Burk made a deliberate decision to destroy the Masters tournament. Her first line of attack was to bully CBS into pulling out of its contract to broadcast the Masters. Burk went so far as to threaten CBS with an FCC action—claiming that the Masters broadcast violated the “public interest” requirement of FCC licensees—that she knew to be baseless as a matter of law. When that didn’t work, Burk went after the tournament’s sponsors, smearing them as “anti-women.” Augusta National, in what turned out to be a pivotal moment, replied by taking the sponsors off the hook and announcing CBS would air this year’s Masters without commercial interruption. Thus, Burk not only failed to stop the tournament, she managed to hand the nation’s viewers a commercial-free sporting event!

In a last ditch effort, Burk argued the tournament should be cancelled due to the Iraqi war. She said the nation’s women in uniform would be offended by the spectacle of a golf tournament hosted by an all-male club. Nobody took this argument seriously, and even Burk didn’t, as she refused to call off her own protest “out of respect for the troops.”

The protest itself was a disgrace to leftist malcontents everywhere. In a nation that can spawn multiple thousands of antiwar demonstrators on a few days notice, Burk’s gathering managed around 40 supporters, despite the fact she’s had months of national press to advertise her cause. Burk’s forces were outnumbered by other protesters (including the fine folks at “People Against Ridiculous Protests”) and fascinated media. Actually, the apparent highlight was when Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly managed to pick a fight with a lone member of the Klu Klux Klan, thus violating the media commandment to never become part of the story.

Saturday’s carnival only made Sunday’s pictures from the golf club all the more triumphant. As Burk’s efforts at destruction faded into obscurity, viewers were treated to the sight of a packed gallery rising to applaud the golfers as they made their way onto the 18th green, including surprise leaders Weir and Mattiace. Despite the fact Tiger Woods was no longer in contention for a third consecutive Masters, the patrons at Augusta nevertheless provided a thunderous ovation for the relatively unknown successors. This in itself was a great moment. More than a polite gesture, the gallery’s reception was a profound affirmation of human achievement. All of the golfers at the Masters, especially the champion Weir, were on their sport’s grandest stage, playing in a tournament that required their best mental and physical efforts.  The patrons understood this, and they applauded justly.

They did not, however, applaud Martha Burk. Indeed, Burk is unlikely to receive any affirmation for her non-achievement, except perhaps from the sorry offices of the New York Times editorial board. In the end, Burk emerged a laughing stock, while Augusta National saw a grand tournament, an excellent turnout, and a tidy profit. All in all, a good day for golf, capitalism, and of course Mike Weir.


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