On a day in the 21st century when President Obama announced he supported the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, Tim Finchem sounded like a guy straight out of “Mad Men” in the early 1960s. The PGA Tour commissioner twisted himself into a virtual pretzel when he sought to rationalize Augusta National’s male-only membership policy at the same time that he was boosting The First Tee, an organization designed to increase minority participation in the game of golf.
Seriously, did Woody Allen write this script? Finchem didn’t actually say, “All children under 16 years old are now ... 16 years old,” as Esposito did in Allen’s “Bananas,” but his double-speak was just as whacky. Here's Finchem’s tortured rationale for the tour’s continued support of an establishment that discriminates based on a person’s gender:
“Well, I think the position of the PGA Tour hasn't changed. We have a policy that says that when we go out and do a co‑sanctioned event, we are going to play it at a club that is as open to women members, open to minority members, etc., and we follow that policy carefully,” Finchem told reporters gathered at TPC Sawgrass for this week’s Players Championship.
Except when it comes to a tradition unlike any other.
“In the case of the Masters, we concluded,” Finchem said, tripping over his words, “we have concluded a number of times now, and we have certainly not moved off of this; that we are not going to give up the Masters as a tournament on our tour. It's too important."
“And so at the end of the day, the membership of that club have to determine their membership,” Finchem said. “They are not doing anything illegal.”
But wait. There’s more.
“But we just elect to continue to recognize them as an official money event on the PGA Tour because we think it's that important to golf, so we don't get to determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don't have to, because we made the conclusion that regardless of those policies, we are going to continue to play and recognize them as part of the PGA Tour.”
Well, that clarifies things. But just in case you didn’t get the message, Finchem had one more observation to share.
“I know some people don't like that position, and I appreciate that and I understand their reasoning,” he said, “but that's the decision we've made.”
Augusta’s discriminatory membership policy has come under increasing scrutiny since long-time Masters sponsor IBM named a woman as its president and chief executive in January. Grumbling has even begun to seep out from the inner sanctum, as billionaire and Augusta National member Warren Buffett said last week that he would admit “plenty of women” to Augusta if he “were running the club,” according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
While Buffett was reportedly the first ANGC member to offer a public rebuttal to his club’s exclusionary practice, he also said he had no plans to quit his membership in protest over the policy. If a supposed social liberal like Buffett won’t make more than a symbolic (at best) attempt to change the old guard’s minds, why would anyone expect the PGA Tour honcho to pull out of its most beloved tournament over a tiny matter like equal rights?
Apparently, Finchem saw nothing the least bit ironic or hypocritical about the tour’s continued support for an organization that discriminates while discussing one of its primary philanthropic initiatives: a $100 million campaign to get 10 million new kids involved with The First Tee.
“We started the program in 1997 and the idea was primarily driven by providing access to golf, to primarily kids, and primarily minority kids,” Finchem explained about the mission of The First Tee, “because we were focused on kids who had not had access to the game.”
Finchem. Over and out.