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Augusta National To Host Its First-Ever Women's Tournament


Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, is known for lots of things - green jackets, blooming azaleas, names like Arnie, Jack, Tiger. What Augusta is not known for is its openness towards women. Augusta didn't admit female members until 2012, so our ears perked up yesterday when Augusta National announced that next year, it will hold its first ever women's tournament.

Sports columnist Christine Brennan joins us from Augusta. Welcome back to the program.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, thanks, Mary Louise - great to be with you.

KELLY: All right, so this is going to be an amateur tournament, first women's tournament ever at Augusta. How big a deal is that?

BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely it's a big deal. I mean, 15 years ago, I think a lot of people will remember the Hootie-Martha Masters, which was 2003, as contentious as it gets, really one of the low points, Mary Louise, in terms of women's rights not just in our - in sports but in our culture. Augusta at that point did not have any women members. I wrote a lot about it.

Martha Burk read one of my columns. She came down and protested. And it was ugly, and it was messy, and it was nasty. And the Augusta National green jackets, all men, almost all of them white, dug in their heels and said no women ever. That was 15 years ago. The arc of these last 15 years is truly remarkable. And there are now four women members at Augusta - better than zero, not exactly a lot.

KELLY: Four out of what, a few hundred?

BRENNAN: About - yeah, about 300 or so - so a little bit more than 1 percent. But it's still - for 2018, it's stunning that Augusta National, a private club, very public face of golf with many members who are corporate executives who could never for one moment have these policies in their companies, and yet they were allowing it here for so long...

KELLY: So how did this come to pass? What changed?

BRENNAN: What changed is a new chairman, Fred Ridley - 65-year-old father of three daughters who care very much about this issue and that they'd be very pleased to hear the news about this tournament, which will be just one day on Augusta National next year - nonetheless, what a platform - the greatest platform for women's golf ever. And I think that's basically it. Ridley is from a little bit of a different era, has much more of an open-minded sense about the game and about growing the game. And I think the other huge factor here is that golf has been hemorrhaging participants. It costs too much money, takes too much time. Americans' attention spans are shorter.

KELLY: So this is about potentially doubling the number of players and doubling the audience if you let women in.

BRENNAN: Yeah, right. Consider that - 51 percent of your population. And what's the growth industry? What's the untapped market for golf? Well, it's women. And for generations, the golf industry has put out the stop sign and has basically told our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and the girls next door, don't play this sport. And what a silly way to try to run a sport and sell products and sell golf clubs and rounds of golf. But they did this, and it really - sexism trumped capitalism for many decades, especially among the greatest capitalists in our country who are members of the club.

KELLY: I hear you celebrating this change. What has been the reaction from Augusta members?

BRENNAN: Oh, I think everyone is pretty much understanding (laughter) that it is the 21st century. Maybe it's time to enter the 20th before too much more of the 21st goes by. I think they're fine with it. I - a lot of these members now, Mary Louise, are younger men. When I say younger - 40s, 50s, 60s. And I think they understand that they have to get with the times.

KELLY: All right, thanks so much, Christine.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's Christine Brennan, columnist for USA Today speaking to us from Augusta, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.