THE REALLY shocking thing about the flare-up over the Augusta National Golf Club's recent vow to admit women members only when it's ready is that both the protagonist and antagonist have been nicknamed "Hootie."
Otherwise, this is a familiar American socio-drama, with old rich guys hectored -- in this case, by women's rights activists -- until they catch up with the times. It has legs because it involves the prestigious Masters Tournament, a worldwide TV audience of 150 million, and big-time corporate interests.
The protagonist: William "Hootie" Johnson, chairman of the secretive Georgia club, where roughly 300 members average more than 70 years old and constitute a who's who of corporate America, albeit often retired. This week, this Hootie, who otherwise is known as progressive, reacted to months of pressure to admit the club's first woman by declaring it would do that only on its own terms -- and not soon.
The antagonist: Martha Burk, leader of the National Council of Women's Organizations, representing 160 groups and 7 million women (and, not incidentally, nicknamed "Hootie" as a kid). So far, her campaign to open Augusta prompted the first Hootie to drop Coca-Cola, IBM and Citigroup as Masters' sponsors -- pre-emptively sparing them troubles. Now she threatens a noisy boycott next April when the world's best compete amid Augusta's glorious azaleas.
Of course Augusta, being private, can keep out women members. (Female guests play an estimated 1,000 rounds a year.) Other groups have single-sex memberships, including the Junior League and Baltimore's Maryland Club. Major professional golf organizations have policies against holding tournaments at private clubs that racially discriminate but accept Augusta's stance on women. (Augusta, by the way, didn't admit its first black member until 1990. )
But having nurtured the Masters from a private gathering in the 1930s into one of the world's most prominent sports events, Augusta's responsibilities exceed legalities: It's just not possible these days to play host to the world at a venue that excludes women members (no matter if the women are very rich and very well connected.)
So let this playlet play out. Let the first Hootie draw his line. It won't hold. The outcome -- as sought by the second Hootie -- seems foregone, and the sooner the better.