Why 'Caddyshack' is funnier than real life
by Jim Litke
Sep. 2, 2002 2:36 p.m.
The increasingly noisy debate about whether women should join Augusta National Golf Club in time for next year's tournament or face some yet-to-be-named dire consequences reminds us one more time why "Caddyshack" is funnier than real life.
In the movie, silly, snobbish behavior by members of the country-club set proves to be nobody's headache but their own. Most of the laughs, in fact, come from watching the deserving parties get exactly what's coming to them.
In real life, a busybody with too much time on her hands and a stubborn banker with too little patience take their grudge match public and waste more of other people's time and energy than the brouhaha deserves. Tiger Woods sweated more facing a few questions on the subject than he ever did over a putt to win a major.
The tiff between Martha Burk, who runs the National Council of Women's Organization, and Hootie Johnson, who calls the shots at Augusta National and the Masters golf tournament every April hardly qualifies as the principled fight both sides claim.
Burk said the NCWO sent a letter to the Augusta National chairman to call attention to discrimination at the club, when the reason her organization more likely got involved was to call attention to itself.
Instead of tackling the tough issues that women identify over and over as barriers to their participation in the sport - a lack of time and teaching opportunities, more affordable playing and learning centers - Burk chose the easy target.
Anybody who truly believes there is a shortage of places where rich people - of either gender - will be welcomed with open arms knows precious little about how the world works. And Burk apparently knows even less about golf.
"The Masters, in my mind, is not tied at the hip to this club," she said at one point. "An event of this profile could be held somewhere else."
Johnson, though, doesn't have the luxury of being out of touch on the topic. He knows Augusta National's 300-strong membership roll has been embarrassingly uniform (read: white males) for most of its 69-year history. No blacks were admitted before 1990 and only a half-dozen or so belong today.
Johnson said in a strongly worded reply that, "The essence of a private club is privacy," and had he ended his reply there, the matter might have ended soon after.
One of his predecessors, the late Hord Hardin, acknowledged a dozen years ago that women routinely played the course as guests, and members were already preparing for the day when one of them would play it as a full-fledged member. Johnson could have repeated the pledge to buy some time. Instead, he followed his reply to Burk with a three-page letter to the media conjuring up unflattering memories of humorless harpies out to destroy men.
"We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case," he wrote.
But Johnson didn't stop there, either.
Last week, to prove just how rich and powerful his club was, he announced the Masters would forgo the usual dollars from sponsors to remove them from the NCWO and harm's way.
With the ante raised, Burk threatened to apply pressure instead on CBS, which televises the golf season's most popular tournament. She also discussed approaching the companies whose executives belong to Augusta National.
"Who's underwriting the membership?" she said over the weekend. "How does that square with the companies' stated policies on discrimination? I think we would want consumers to know that situation."
Maybe, but she hasn't had much luck with her crusade so far. Several sponsors have already argued that Augusta National, the private club, and the Masters, the very public tournament it stages each spring, are separate. A spokeswoman said over the weekend CBS will broadcast the Masters next year, and left it at that.
If anything, Burk's' decision to mount a public campaign to force Augusta to admit a woman member before next year will probably backfire. Johnson's stubborn resolve aside, it may be tougher than ever now to find a women willing to join because of the overheated climate.
In that vein, the editors of Golf Magazine came up with some nominees, a page full of them in fact. The best few:
-Laura Norman, so husband Greg "can finally try on a green jacket."
-Melinda Gates, who unlike her software magnate husband, never asked to join.
-Tonya Harding, because "We know she can swing a club."
-Anna Kournikova, "So what? She can't play tennis, either."
If only it were that simple.