Hootie Johnson, former chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., home of The Master’s Golf Tournament, died on Friday at age 86. The New York Times recognized him in an obituary by Richard Goldstein and could not resist getting in last swings at its unlikely foe. In 2002-03, Johnson was in the paper’s cross-hairs for refusing to admit women members to Augusta National (the controversy was defused somewhat in 2012, when the club accepted two women, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, as members).
In a notorious editorial in November 2002, “America’s All-Male Golfing Society,” obsessive anti-Augusta crusader and Times executive editor Howell Raines even suggested that Tiger Woods, then king of the golf world, boycott the tournament in solidarity. Raines targeted CBS as well, which had the broadcast rights to the tournament, and did multiple stories, many on the front page, keeping the pressure on CBS and Augusta National. It failed, and the promised protest petered out.
The anti-Augusta crusade resulted in a whopping 32 stories on whether the Augusta National Golf Club would admit women. New York Daily News columnist Paul Colford revealed that the Times had spiked columns by two sports columnists who had written columns disagreeing with the editorial board's stand on Woods.
Showing little respect for the deceased, the paper’s obituary forwarded noxious criticism of Johnson as Lester Maddox, while ignoring the paper’s own embarrassing activism around the issue of Augusta National: “Hootie Johnson, 86; Fought Admission of Women at Masters Site.”
Hootie Johnson, who forcefully resisted efforts to admit women as members of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters tournament, died on Friday in Columbia, S.C. He was 86.
His daughter Jennifer Todd said the cause was congestive heart failure.
Mr. Johnson’s clash with a women’s rights activist named Martha Burk in the spring and summer of 2002 drew national attention. And it brought a renewed focus to the issue of how social discrimination against women could affect their professional ambitions, because Augusta National, in Georgia, had many corporate leaders among its members.
All seemed serene at Augusta National until June 2002, when Mr. Johnson received a letter from Ms. Burk, who was the chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, a coalition of more than 160 groups.
“We know that Augusta National and the sponsors of the Masters do not want to be viewed as entities that tolerate discrimination against any group, including women,” the letter said. “We urge you to review your policies and practices in this regard, and open your membership to women now, so that this is not an issue when the tournament is staged next year.
During the 2003 tournament, Ms. Burk led a demonstration near the course that drew wide coverage. But only about 40 protesters were on hand.
“This is symbolic of all the ways women are left out,” Ms. Burk told The New York Times. “It legitimizes sex discrimination when American C.E.O.s are engaging in it with impunity.”
But the Augusta issue faded after that, and when Mr. Johnson retired as chairman of the club in 2006, it still had no female members.
The paper damned Johnson with faint praise:
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Mr. Johnson was often portrayed as an unreconstructed southerner, but he offered opportunities for women and blacks at his banks, pushed for integration of higher education in South Carolina and supported black candidates for public office.
As the chairman of Augusta National, he toughened the Masters course and lengthened it, enhanced official world rankings as a determining factor in qualifying for the tournament and expanded TV coverage of the event.
After an objective summary of Johnson’s life and career, the paper threw in this flaming garbage at the end, showing there’s no forgiveness for crossing the paper’s zealously liberal ideals of justice.
After his death, however, Ms. Burk told The Associated Press: “I think history will remember him as the Lester Maddox of golf,” referring to the segregationist governor of Georgia who refused to serve blacks in his restaurant.