Augusta’s progressive claims are just pretence without a Women’s Masters | Ewan Murray

FRed Ridley’s Wednesday morning speech to the media at Augusta National has become an episode of self-congratulations and script reading. Checking off boxes for Ridley, the Augusta chairman, and his acolytes is becoming an annual frustration for journalists. They probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

Those who preside over the Masters take pride in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Children’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, which precede the opening major of the year. No one of a squeamish nature should watch either on television; broadcasters are falling over themselves and offering great superlatives that go beyond parody. The Green Jackets are taking over. “Look! Look! We’re progressive! There’s kids wearing shorts and stuff!” The big action begins on Monday of Masters Week. England’s Lottie Woad, the newly crowned Women’s Amateur Champion, will be back at Florida State University by the time the 88th Masters Champion is crowned. The show continues quickly in this corner of Georgia.

Ridley, who has been at the helm at Augusta since 2017, is an innovator at the club level. He has generally been a force for good in what was once a grim environment. Augusta National’s reputation in the local community has been strengthened during his tenure, as has its commitment to local causes. The club is a good neighbor. The fact that a women’s event is taking place here at all is so far removed from the club’s historical bias that it shows that things have gone a step further. Amateur golf is a cause close to Ridley’s heart, given his one-time eminence in that scene.

It’s fair enough to get kids involved in playing challenges on the training ground, if it weren’t plastered all over the media and talked about in such ridiculously lofty terms. But this is certainly not a subject for revolution. Female competitors are allowed one practice round and one practice round with scorecard in hand after completing 36 holes on a course half an hour away. This still exudes the hint of symbolism of an organization that only twelve years ago allowed women as members for the first time – and at the point of a bayonet. Only the most dedicated golf followers could win the ladies amateur here. There isn’t nearly enough broader relevance.

Augusta should host an annual Women’s Masters. At the very least, it should take place deep in the planning stages. There is no remaining reason, either in society or in relation to the club itself, that adequately explains why this would not happen. Such a competition, if providing a financial reward similar to that of the male version – and Augusta has the wealth to easily achieve that – could make a real difference. Augusta can provide elite women’s golf with a platform that has never been offered before. It is strange that there has not been a joint call to realize a Women’s Masters. It is equally curious that female members of the club, including Annika Sörenstam, have not used their profiles and voices to call for such an opportunity.

There is already a Women’s British Open, which has been improved under the leadership of Martin Slumbers of the R&A. The US Women’s Open exists. This also applies to the Women’s PGA Championship. It should be noted that there are two other majors on the women’s golf schedule – the Chevron and Evian Championships – but there is no hard and fast rule about the quota of major tournaments. No one is going to scream and complain about scheduling issues when the big run hits half a dozen. A Masters would be truly ambitious for both emerging and established female golfers.

The 2020 Masters is largely forgotten because it was played in November due to the impact of the coronavirus and Dustin Johnson galloped to a five-shot victory. However, the color and background of that match offered a new perspective. Christmas-themed gnomes are selling like hotcakes online. The golf course looked and played very differently than it did in April and the traditional Masters window. Augusta National is closed during the summer months. Scheduling a major women’s event late in the year would provide a further glimpse of that alternative view. The city of Augusta would certainly appreciate a golf tournament side event a second week of the year.

Augusta loves its exclusivity, which may explain why there is no Women’s Masters. Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters

A major problem here is that Augusta revels in its exclusivity. A golfer could come to Magnolia Lane with $5 million in a suitcase and not be allowed to pass the bollards. That the masses only have access to this place for such a limited period each year adds to the mystical atmosphere. Doubling down on the influence of public interaction would feel like sacrilege to many in positions of power at the club. At least, that is the impression that remains.

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A counterargument is that Augusta is buying up properties even close to the border – the latter including a small park, at a cost of $350,000 (£275,000), and a commercial building where people spend $17,000 on hospitality – in aid of a The Week of the years represents needless generosity, even by Masters standards. A total thinking is needed, which points directly in the direction of women’s golf.

Augusta National has the tournament experience, ownership and financial strength to implement equality between male and female professional athletes. It also requires motivation. The lack of any public evidence of this tells us all we need to know about the likelihood of a Women’s Masters, on Ridley’s watch or otherwise. This feels sad. Augusta could redefine its own sporting legacy with one statement of intent.

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