Augusta club will protect Tiger Woods’ privacy as well as its own

By A. James Memmott

March 17, 2010 at 10:12am

It’s no surprise that Tiger Woods has chosen to resume his golf career at the Masters next month.

The event, which begins on April 8, is the first of golf’s four major tournaments this year, a must-play for golfers of Woods’ caliber, and it’s staged by a club that tightly controls media access.

Presumably, the officials of Augusta National Golf Club will shield Woods from prying questions about his marital infidelity, much as they have shielded their club.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Since its founding in 1932, the exclusive club in Augusta, Ga., has had a kind of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about its activities, its policies and its membership.

However, a spotlight was shone on Augusta National in 2002 and 2003 when a women’s group challenged its men-only membership rule.

Citing its private status, the club defended the status quo.

“If I drop dead right now, our position will not change on this issue,” William “Hootie” Johnson said at the beginning of the 2003 tournament.

Johnson, a retired Bank of American executive, left the chairmanship in 2006 and was succeeded by William “Billy” Payne. The club still has no women members.

The club does not release its membership list, but USA Today obtained a copy in 2002.

“The average age is 72,” the newspaper wrote. “More than a third are retired. And they come mainly from the country’s old-line industries: banking and finance, oil and gas, manufacturing and distributing.”

Reporters Michael McCarthy and Erik Brady wrote that members tend to stay as long as their health permits, so it’s safe to assume that many of the people in the club then are in the club now.

The list included Warren Buffett, the investment king, General Electric’s Jack Welch and golf’s Arnold Palmer, as well as Peter Coors of Coors Brewing and Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express and one of a small number of African-American members of the club.

Citing Time magazine, USA Today also included Microsoft’s Bill Gates as one of the club’s approximately 300 members.

“Augusta National Golf Club is a golfing version of Yale’s Skull and Bones: a secret society of the well heeled that answers to one,” USA Today wrote. “You don’t apply for membership. You get called — if you have the right combination of money, influence and friends.”

Various publications have reported various figures for Augusta National’s initiation fee and annual dues.

While these reports are not definitive, it is generally accepted that the cost of being a member, though in the thousands of dollars, is relatively low compared to that of other prestigious clubs.

The fees can be kept down as the club receives millions of dollars annually for the television rights to its tournament.

An April 2009 inside look at the club in Portfolio gave a sense of what it’s like for those who join Augusta National.

According to the magazine, the club, “a peaceful enclave for powerful men,” has a “world-class wine cellar and high-quality food.” However, French fries are not on the menu because a former chairman thought they were “unhealthy.”

Augusta National, which is closed during the summer, has lodging on the ground for members, who can stay for about $100 per night.

Every member has to wear the club’s trademark green blazer while on the course during the week of the Masters. They leave their jackets behind when they are not at the club.

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