AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Lee Westwood (L) of England and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa walk up the seventh fairway during the third round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Leaders of the golf industry descend on Congress, where echoes of the debate over Augusta National's male-only membership policy still reverberate.
As industry leaders converged on Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for the fifth annual National Golf Day, legislation that would end tax breaks for Augusta National Golf Club and other restrictive businesses was making the rounds on Capitol Hill.
The 2012 Masters may be history, but echoes of this year’s renewed debate over the host club’s male-only membership policy still reverberate through the marble halls of the U.S. Congress. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) had Augusta’s exclusionary practice squarely in her sights when she re-introduced a bill designed to strip Billy Payne’s chummy old-boys club and others like it of federal tax benefits.
Augusta National “blew a ‘gimme’” when it declined to offer membership to the new female chief executive of long-time Masters sponsor IBM, Maloney said in a statement explaining her “Ending Tax Breaks for Discrimination Act.”
“A woman can run a great company, she can run a country, she can run circles around her competition, she can be at the top of her profession, but Augusta National Golf Club believes she cannot be a member of its club simply because she is female,” Maloney, a long-time critic of the club’s protocol, wrote about IBM's CEO Virginia Rometty in an April 13 letter to ANGC chair Payne.
Maloney, who has introduced the bill many times over the past several years, would block businesses that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, or color from deducting travel, promotional, and other expenses from their federal taxes. She made a special point of singling Augusta out when she sent the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee.
“America should not encourage a discriminatory policy by offering a business tax deduction so individuals can write off membership or expenses associated with meetings at a club that discriminates on the basis of sex,” she wrote to Payne. “Now that the cameras have moved on, Augusta National could simply and quietly, in keeping with the finest traditions of your club, grant membership to the CEO of IBM and other similarly deserving women.”
It should be interesting to see how the issue plays out this time around -- what with presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his closest challengers joining Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the nation’s Hacker-in-Chief in opposing Augusta National’s antiquated membership custom.
“There are not many things in this world that Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, President Obama and I can all agree on,” Maloney noted. “But this is one of them. It is long past time to break the gender barrier at Augusta National.”
Meanwhile, 2011 FedEx Cup champ Bill Haas and his father Jay, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour, were among the notables scheduled to participate in National Golf Day.
Business executives and the heads of the PGA of America, World Golf Foundation (WGF), and other golf organizations made the yearly trek to Washington to lobby for tax relief and other legislation that supports small businesses. They went armed with statistics showing that the U.S. golf industry employs almost two million people, makes more than $3 billion in charitable donations, and contributes some $76 billion to the economy -- more than performing arts and spectator sports, and the motion picture and video industry, according to WGF.
“Golf is good for 100 percent of the population, not just the 10 percent of the population that plays golf,” Mike Hughes, chief executive of the National Golf Course Owners Association, told the New York Times. “It’s more than a game. It’s a stable employer, it’s entertainment and it’s recreation.”
Hughes added that (contrary to public perception), golf offers people from all walks of life -- “carpenters, plumbers, teachers, doctors and lawyers” -- the opportunity to play together on courses that may charge as little as $20 per round.
“It is not an elitist sport,” Hughes said.
Unless, of course, you’re one of the reported 300 or so masters of the universe who belong to Augusta National.