The controversy began with a seemingly innocuous private letter, and spiraled into the biggest media event in golf history. The Augusta National membership dispute dominated headlines and watercooler conversation for nearly a year, propelled by twenty-first-century hot-button issues and a pair of perfectly drawn foils in Hootie Johnson and Martha Burk. But a year after Burk's messy Masters week protest, the meaning of the membership controversy remains elusive. In The Battle for Augusta National, Alan Shipnuck -- who reinvented the PGA Tour narrative with the rollicking Bud, Sweat, & Tees -- provides the definitive account of what really happened and why.
In this lively, irreverent, ambitious book, Shipnuck chases the story from the chairman's office at Augusta National to the living room of the One Man Klan, along the way bringing to life a vivid cast of characters and revealing subplots aplenty. With meticulous reporting and penetrating insights, Shipnuck provides a nuanced look into the complex and contradictory worlds of Hootie and Martha, who were drawn together like moths to a flame; reveals Augusta National's secret plots to undermine the press and the accompanying turmoil at The New York Times, including an exclusive interview with the Times's disgraced executive editor, Howell Raines; and explores the Southern politics that led to Burk's Masters week banishment, drawing on Senate confirmation hearings and campaign contribution documents to link local politicians and a federal judge to Augusta National.
From Tiger Woods to Jack Welch, Sandra Day O'Connor to Bryant Gumbel, Treasury Secretary Snow to Jesse Jackson, the gang's all here in this withering look at a story that never stopped churning.
Along the way, many of the membership controversy's mysteries are revealed. How did Augusta National's top-secret membership roll become public? Who was the shadowy protester identified by hoodwinked reporters as Heywood Jablome? Did Burk lie about a vast right-wing conspiracy to undermine her demonstration? All of this and much more can be found in The Battle for Augusta National, a book that captures the passion and absurdity of a great national debate that continues to simmer.
In June 2002, Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, sent a nine-sentence letter to the Augusta National Golf Club host of the prestigious Masters tournament asking it to review its policy of barring women from club membership. The unexpectedly long and harsh response of club chairman "Hootie" Johnson to Burk's short letter sparked a yearlong battle of wills that quickly became a national controversy. Shipnuck (Bud, Sweat and Tees), a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, superbly recounts all of the debacle's hilarious, sad, serious and absurd details. His overall view is that "Everybody lost" in a battle in which "both sides are right" in "a binary argument": the Constitution allows Augusta's right to decide its membership, at the same time that Augusta's policy is inappropriate since it is part of a golf world governed by a nondiscrimination policy. No one really looks good in this story, although Shipnuck shows how Johnson clearly tarnished the image of the Masters and became a poster child for discrimination, while Burk merely let her aggressive protests fizzle out over time. He saves his scorn for others: the "scheming PR flack" hired by Augusta who used the controversy to benefit his career; the members of the media who used Johnson and Burk to push their own agendas; and such golf stars as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods (whom Shipnuck definitively shows to be "a middle-aged white guy at heart"), who ran away from addressing Augusta's intolerance. He too often uncritically quotes conservatives like Mickey Kaus, but Shipnuck clearly captures the pros and cons of the battle for Augusta.