Burk's pig adds fitting slop to oh-so-proper Augusta

The Masters

April 13, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

AUGUSTA, Ga. - So Martha Burk could muster only about three dozen warm bodies for her long-promised protest at Augusta National. She'll be crucified on sports talk radio stations coast-to-coast for the apparent lack of support, but hold on:

There was that inflatable pink pig.

Martha's rosy dirigible flew low and proud over the grassy field where local sheriff Ronnie Strength and the local magistrate (Burk contended) went out of their way to stick her (and her kind) out of THE way - a half-mile down Washington Road from the exclusive gates of Hootie's golf club for men.

"Welcome to the police state of Georgia! We're so happy to be here in the Pit," Burk shouted to the crowd - of 150 reporters and 100 police.

But at least she had the pig presiding over the carnival midway of a protest.

The pig's name was Ralph, and the blow-up figure was courtesy of Ralph Nader's people, who wanted Burk and Co. to head south from D.C. equipped with a fittingly metaphoric porcine presence.

In the world of social politics, you can't win the war against discrimination and corporate duplicity without eye-catching props. And now that Burk's National Council for Women's Organization has vowed to make every Coke and IBM and CitiCorp executive who's an Augusta member defend the club's men-only policy, the props needed to be bigger-than-life.

Too bad Burk and Eleanor Smeal's National Organization for Women and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition couldn't find an XXXL green jacket to wrap around the hulking shoulders of big ol' Ralph.

Any protest against Augusta National Golf Club and its intractable, defiant chairman, Hootie Johnson, should require props that accurately mimic the people whose shame you're aiming to rouse.

"The time has come for them to come into the 21st century at Augusta National ... [where] some people say that Augusta is like the Boy Scouts, but it's not the Boy Scouts or the Little Rascals in their treehouse, not when they're keeping women out," Burk said.

The question at high noon yesterday in Augusta, as Tiger Woods was barely making the cut for the final rounds of this year's weird Masters: Where was Robert Altman?

Only that gifted movie director could have deftly spliced some meaning out of all the bizarre vignettes, characters and caricatures parading through Augusta - a reluctant new frontier for the advancement of women, where the locals, thanks to Hootie, vilify Martha for the economic setbacks that her protest has caused.

Martha said: Blame Hootie - and tell those other Green Jackets to come clean on where they stand.

Along Washington Road, Burk was joined by other - and far more kooky - soldiers of democracy. Protesters against Hootie. Protesters against Martha. Protesters against protesters. Protesters against people who protest the war. A few nuts, all varieties.

The scene downwind of Augusta demonstrated the drastic difference between what it's like inside the exclusive white gates and what it's like outside.

CBS's cameras beam out the pristine images of Augusta. It's scripted and set to musical pablum. Those greens smooth as a baby's behind. Those flowering shrubs suitable for National Geographic photo spreads. The reality of Augusta, home of the big-business Masters, is off-camera. Off-camera is where you see the real nature and makeup of this joint.

You know it when you see craggy old men in green jackets shuffling out of Augusta's cigar-infused clubhouse. The bigwigs like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett aren't around for public consumption, but the less famous but no less influential members seem reluctant to lock eyes with female journalists, as hordes of Pinkerton guards rush to check any interloper's credential.

For those of us "lucky" to have an all-access credential, the scene inside and around the Augusta clubhouse is as strange as the circus taking place outside.

This much is certain: Burk's protest, and those of the weirdos and well-intentioned who piggy-backed Burk's event (Ku Klux Klan outcast member J.J. Harper, People Against Ridiculous Protests and the local residents who hung signs like "Leave the South Alone Martha") was a stunning display of equal-opportunity democracy in action.

Inside? The epitome of power and privilege, that's what.

On the lawn outside the clubhouse, overlooking the first tee box, the scene was so civil and proper, as they require it to be.

The hush across the acres and acres of private course was remarkable. How could a place filled with thousands and thousands of spectators remain quiet enough to hear Phil Mickelson's titanium driver head connect with the ball?

The only offensive element inside Augusta is the stench of the fertilizer-infused mud drying under the afternoon sun. Everything else offensive (cell phones, peace symbols) is against the rules - including women.

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