Here We Go Again: Columnist Vecsey Excoriates Racist, Sexist Augusta National Golf Club

On the eve of The Masters, tournament host and Augusta National chairman Billy Payne delivered a surprise public lecture to golfer Tiger Woods, giving sports columnist George Vecsey a chance to again make liberal political hay from Augusta's immaculate green fairway in Thursday's "Thanks for the Tasteless Sermon."

They are worse than we knew.

The people who run the Masters are not just stubborn rich guys who don't want female members cluttering up their precious fairways, although that is bad enough.

Members stood around Wednesday and listened to Billy Payne, the grand pooh-bah of the Masters, deliver a mean-spirited lecture about the private life of Tiger Woods. The other members in attendance did not rush up and sedate Payne, or slap duct tape over his rude mouth, or jeer him down. They let him continue. Ol' Billy probably wasn't saying anything the other men in the green jackets hadn't thought.

Without being asked, Payne launched into a prepared statement at his annual pretournament news conference, saying Woods had "disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids."

He added: "Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."

Remind me again why we are supposed to talk in reverent tones about the Masters. Because it stands for money and power and the exclusion of women and goodness knows what hidden messages in the public rebuking of "our hero," who is part Thai and part African-American.

Just asking, but would Payne have been so quick to deliver his little sermon to a white golfer who was caught straying? My guess is that some kind of double standard whacked Tiger Woods on the backswing. How dare he stray after all they've done for him?

Times historians may remember the paper's ill-advised crusade, led by then executive editor Howell Raines, against the Augusta National Golf Club's refusal to admit women as members, going so far as to issue an editorial suggesting Woods boycott the tournament as an act of racial-feminist solidarity.

Raines notoriously made feminist Martha Burk's 2003 crusade for the club to admit women a running front-page story. It didn't work; Burk's on-site protest at Augusta garnered a mere 40 people, roughly matching the number of articles the Times devoted to the crusade.

Unbowed and evidently unembarrassed to reduce his column to freshman-style indulgence (Paul Simon lyrics?), Vecsey compared Burk's protest to civil rights demonstrations in his Simonized column dated April 16, 2003:

What they overlooked was the process. Photographs of the civil rights demonstrations were distributed. The whole world was watching. Before long, Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching to millions at the mall in Washington. Golf is hardly civil rights, but telling a few truths is universal.

Martha Burk served as a prophet. And we all know that prophets are not necessarily heard or respected in their time. They are seen as loonies or harpies. The public scolds.

"The words of the prophets/Are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls/And whispered in the sounds of silence."

Paul Simon's words are never more relevant than in this spring of the Masters protest, at a time of year when some people honor their prophets. Who knows? Maybe people will discuss Martha Burk's message at Passover seders this evening.