Editorial Board

Fight Masters Equality Battle in Market, Not on Fairways

By now, almost a week after Bubba Watson smashed his way to a Masters victory, things should be pretty much back to normal at the Augusta National Golf Club. The TV trucks are gone. The trampled greens and broken magnolias have been repaired by wizard groundskeepers. And all those activists, journalists and regular folks who were after the club to admit women have fallen silent, doubtless from exhaustion. The club has moved off the fairway of American attention.

This is not a bad thing.

You see, Augusta National, that Georgia haven of polished silver, oiled wood and green jackets tailored solely for men, was a lousy target for a big battle about equality.

Why? Well, it’s a private organization. It breaks no federal laws against discrimination in employment or public accommodations. It’s entitled to make its rules about admission and exclusion, whether or not we find those rules reprehensible. Billy Payne, the club’s chairman, doesn’t have to listen to anyone. Given the scope of the issue, it’s a puny target -- one that quickly recedes behind those white dogwoods on 11 once the circus leaves town. For most people, Augusta National is in our lives for five days a year.

This is not the case with the corporations that sponsor the tournament. If there is a discussion to be had about gender equality -- and there is -- then the tournament’s main corporate sponsors are the ones to which all parties interested in the Augusta Question should take their case.

Unlike Payne, AT&T Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. have to listen, or would be foolish not to listen, to outsiders (i.e., shareholders and consumers). And unlike Augusta, which has always been perfectly straight about where it stands, these corporations appear to want to have it both ways -- to be proud hosts of Take Our Daughters to Work days even as they support a golf tournament at a club to which daughters (not to mention mothers and sisters) cannot belong.

So here’s a novel thought: Leave Augusta National alone. Instead, if you have an issue, use your AT&T phone, or your old IBM laptop, to contact Exxon Mobil and make your thoughts known. If you care, then direct your comments to the sponsors. There’s no point arguing with a pimento cheese sandwich.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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