by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You can’t just join Augusta National Golf Club. You must be asked. But you can’t ask to be asked. Or you’ll never be asked.

There is no waiting list. There is no application process. You either get a letter in the mail or you don’t.

If you do, you can join for that year. If you don’t, you’re out, even if you were a member last year. No one knows how you get chosen. No one knows how you get dropped.

And no one explains.

This we know: Since Augusta opened 70 years ago, no woman has been asked to join. But Lou Holtz has.

Lou Holtz is not a woman. Lou Holtz is the former Notre Dame football coach who now helms the team at the University of South Carolina.

Lou likes to golf. He likes nice golf courses. So joining Augusta would normally be a no-brainer.

Except that Holtz has worked most of his life for universities that celebrate inclusion, universities that do not tolerate discrimination. In fact, the schools where Lou has worked proudly wave the flag of Title IX, a law that ensures female athletes get the same priority as male.

That’s not how it works at Augusta.

Which means Lou has a little problem.

Hootie vs. Martha

Legally, Holtz is under no obligation to turn down the invitation — just as, legally, Augusta is under no obligation to admit a woman.

But the brouhaha over Augusta and the Masters and the struggle between its chairman, Hootie Johnson, and a women’s rights advocate, Martha Burk, to allow even one female member is not about legality. It’s about appearances. It’s about principles.

It’s about the message you send.

When the world’s best golfers come to Augusta every April, they are paying homage to a club that stubbornly defends its right to exclude females.

And when a TV network covers the Masters and breathlessly whispers about the
“hallowed ground of Amen Corner,” it, too, is celebrating an exclusionary place.

And when a lifelong college coach like Lou Holtz joins Augusta, he is essentially saying, “I may work for schools that stress equality, but when it comes to my golf, I’ll join a place that stresses separatism.”

The point isn’t legal.

The point is, maybe that’s not the kind of image you want to project.

Doing the right thing

“I am honored and flattered to have been asked to join Augusta,” Holtz said last week. “It’s a great course with great people.”

Sure. What else can he say? Anything less, and they may take back his invitation letter.

But if Holtz had any backbone, he would be saying this: “Much as I love golf, as a college coach, and therefore, in a certain way, an instructor of young minds, I shouldn’t be joining a club that excludes people due to their gender. They may have the right to do it. But the Ku Klux Klan has the right to assemble. That doesn’t mean I have to pull on a hood.”

Of course, Holtz won’t do that. He wants in. Hobnobbing with Augusta’s captains of industry will get him far better connections than hanging with the unshaven civil rights group down in the student lounge.

But here’s what makes me laugh about the whole Augusta controversy. When its defenders scream “We have the right to have an all-men’s club!,” all you have to do is take the conversation one line further.

OK. You have the right. Now. Why do you want an all-men’s club?

“Because . . . uh . . . because . . . uh . . .”

Because what? Because you want to make bawdy jokes? Because you want to prance around naked? Because girls ruin the fun?

The fact is, no one can come up with a single reason that doesn’t sound stupid or Neanderthal. If that’s the kind of club you want to join, be my guest.

Personally, “stupid” and “Neanderthal” are words I can do without on my calling card.

How about you, Lou?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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