PGA Tour’s Finchem Says Masters Too Important Even With No Women

U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said the Masters Tournament is “too important” to golf for his group not to recognize the event because of Augusta National Golf Club’s all-male membership.

Golf’s richest circuit won’t change its position on the issue because “we don’t have to,” Finchem said in a press conference today in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, site of the Players championship.

“We have concluded a number of times now, and we have certainly not moved off of this; that we are not going to give up the Masters as a tournament on our tour,” Finchem said. “It’s too important. At the end of the day, the membership of that club has to determine their membership. They are not doing anything illegal.”

Augusta National, a private club in Augusta, Georgia, that hosts the season’s first Grand Slam tournament each April, has been the subject of criticism over its male-only membership policy. The issue gained attention this year when International Business Machines Corp. promoted Virginia “Ginni” Rometty to chief executive officer. The club historically invites the CEO of IBM to be a member, including the four previous chief executives. IBM is a Masters sponsor.

According to PGA Tour policy, clubs that host a tournament co-sanctioned by the tour must maintain non-discriminatory policies on the basis of religion, sex or national origin. The Masters is not a co-sanctioned event and has no contract with the PGA Tour.

Buffett’s View

Billy Payne, the club’s chairman, declined to discuss the membership issue when asked during last month’s tournament. Payne said the club’s policies will remain private. Warren Buffett, an Augusta National member and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on March 5 that he would allow women to join the club if he were in charge.

Steve Ethun, a spokesman for the tournament, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail today seeking comment on Finchem’s remarks.

The tournament will continue to be recognized as an official event because “we think it’s that important to golf,” Finchem said. Money won and scores and statistics compiled during the invitational event run by Augusta National will continue to be used as part of the PGA Tour’s season-long results.

“We don’t get to determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don’t have to,” Finchem said. “I know some people don’t like that position, and I appreciate that and I understand their reasoning, but that’s the decision we’ve made.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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