Despite Controversy, Bono Plays Augusta

Posted April 9, 2003 at 6:33pm

Amid the political uproar over this year’s Masters Golf Tournament, at least one prominent Member of Congress is not worried about being spotted at the all-male Augusta National Club.

One month before today’s nationally televised tournament starts, Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) teed off for a round of golf with her husband at the controversial club — even as national women’s groups intensified pressure against Augusta National and its affluent membership for refusing to permit women to join the club.

After hearing about Bono’s round, the women’s groups teed off on the Congresswoman.

“As a woman — whether she is a Member of Congress or not — I would think Bono would be outraged at a policy that would say that you are good enough to be a Member of the House of Representatives but not this club,” said Martha Burk, an official with the National Council of Women’s Organizations, who has led the effort to focus national attention on the sexist policy.

Bono defended her visit to the course, saying her work on behalf of women far outweighs where she plays golf.

“As a female Member of Congress who has advocated for the rights of women to receive an education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who has fought to end domestic violence, and who supports the rights of women athletes as outlined in Title IX, I find it difficult to accept the notion that changing membership rules for this private club will benefit modern women in any significant fashion,” she said in a prepared statement.

“The issue is still getting women into Congress and boardrooms,” she added in an interview. “That will solve the [golf club] problem, not the other way around.”

Bono played her round of golf — from the men’s tees, she points out — the day after serving as the guest speaker at a fundraiser for Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), whose district includes the renowned course that has hosted the Masters Tournament since 1934.

The day after the fundraiser, she and her husband, Glenn Baxley, played 18 holes at the course as the guests of a local physician who is an Augusta member.

Augusta permits women to play a round of golf at the club, but they are forbidden from becoming full-fledged, dues-paying members.

Bono said she viewed the opportunity to play Augusta as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to share with my husband, an avid golfer who has dreamed of playing this course for years.”

The cost of the trip to Augusta was split by Bono, her re-election committee and Norwood’s campaign.

Last week, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) and a dozen of their colleagues introduced a resolution calling on Members, administration officials and federal judges not to join clubs that discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

The resolution was introduced to underscore Congressional opposition to the Augusta policy.

“By saying ‘Women, Keep Out,’ Augusta National sends a strong message to women everywhere: You are not our equal partner and you do not deserve the opportunity to mix and mingle with CEO’s of America’s top corporations,” Maloney said upon introducing the measure.

Upon learning that Bono played at the course, Maloney said that lawmakers can make up their own minds about whether they should play golf at Augusta National or other all-male clubs.

“Leaders should set an example,” Maloney said. “Members should set an example by not joining clubs or continue to be members of clubs that discriminate against minorities and women.”

However, Maloney said that she supports the right of lawmakers to play golf wherever they choose.

“It’s a free country. I support people who decide to play golf,” she said. “I’m glad that someone invited … Mary to play.”

Norwood, who represents Augusta National, agreed with Maloney that Members should be allowed to make up their own minds about where to play golf. But he said that lawmakers — and all Americans — should be allowed to join whatever club they want.

“We are still free enough in America that a bunch of people [can] associate with whomever they want,” Norwood said. “We are still free enough in America to do that.”

As for this week’s protests, Norwood said: “Martha Burk has not helped one woman in my district, but she has hurt a whole lot of female entrepreneurs in my district.”

Norwood did not accompany Bono on the round at Augusta. “I’m into freedom, not golf,” he said.

Bono is only the most recent policymaker to raise eyebrows by her associations with exclusive, all-male clubs.

Treasury Secretary John Snow resigned from Augusta National last year after President Bush tapped him for the Cabinet post.

Ari Fleischer, the president’s press secretary, said at the time that Bush did not ask Snow to leave the club.

“That’s an individual decision he makes,” Fleischer said. “It is not, in the president’s judgment, a disqualifying matter in the appointment of Cabinet secretaries.”

Sens. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and John Warner (R-Va.) have taken heat recently for belonging to the all-male Burning Tree Golf Club in suburban Washington.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Democrats noted that new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was a member of Nashville’s all-white Belle Meade Country Club before running for the Senate in 1994.

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) has said he will not relinquish his 30-year membership at Augusta National. Houghton said in an interview that several members of his family belong to the club and that he has no plans to tear up his membership card.

In 2000, Ohio Republican Reps. John Boehner and Mike Oxley were invited to play the course during Masters week. Boehner and Oxley — two of the best golfers on Capitol Hill — shot a 74 and 80, respectively.

The single-round scores were better than those of dozens of pros, including Jack Nicklaus.

As for Bono’s performance, she would only say: “It was a wonderful experience and I was thrilled to play so well from the men’s tees.”