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A Round with Hootie

Nov. 18, 2002
Nov. 18, 2002

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Nov. 18, 2002

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A Round with Hootie

Magnolia Lane, which leads to the front door of Augusta National,
is adorned by 61 trees planted in the 19th century. And so, in a
manner of speaking, is the club's membership directory, which for
71 years has been entirely male. Last week Augusta chairman
Hootie Johnson--at 71, a year younger than the average
member--agreed to an interview that had more ground rules than
Fenway Park, which explains the following Q-and-A format, a kind
of Quotations from Chairman J. Seven weeks removed from heart
surgery, swaddled in his club blazer, betwixt two paintings by
member emeritus Dwight Eisenhower, Johnson looked relaxed in his
office, suggesting, in spite of all you may have read, that it
really is easy bein' green.

This is an article from the Nov. 18, 2002 issue Original Layout

HJ: First, we want to make it clear that we have no timetable for
bringing a woman into Augusta. The time may come when we have
women in our club. But for the time being we hold dear our
traditions and our constitutional right to choose and associate.
[These last two sentences are read from a typewritten sheet.]

SI: Do you regret having reacted publicly--and angrily--to [head
of the National Council of Women's Organizations] Martha Burk's
demand that you admit a woman as a member?

HJ: We thought we were doing the right thing. We probably should
have toned it down. But we'd been attacked. And she threatened
us. And she threatened our sponsors. So there was a little anger
there. [Pronounced, in Johnson's magnificent Southern accent, as
"ANG-uh THEY-uh."]

SI: Can one woman really threaten the rich and powerful men of
Augusta National?

HJ: She threatened us, but she was not a threat. She is not a
threat. Do you follow what I'm saying? It's been an irritation.

SI: Still, has she put you in a no-win situation?

HJ: Oh, no. I don't feel like that a'tall. I think that the
Masters and Augusta National will go on, and this issue will fade
away. We are a single-gender club, and we think that we're in
good company, that single-gender organizations are part of the
fabric of America--with sororities and fraternities, Junior
League, with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Smith College. And for us
to be singled out is totally unfair. [Pronounced "un-FAY-uh."]

SI: But women played 1,000-plus rounds at Augusta last year....

HJ: And I've been asked, "Well, if you have so many women down
here, why do you object to having a woman member?" And I say,
"That does beg the question, but...." We have four-member
parties, and they're all men--[or all women; coed foursomes are
proscribed at Augusta]--and that's what our private club is all
about. That's what this club was founded on by Bobby Jones:
Friends, getting together and playing golf, and just ... being
men.

SI: What do you think of political correctness?

HJ: To tell you the truth, I hear that term all the time, but
tell me, what does that mean?

SI: It means you can't risk, in words or actions, giving offense
to others.

HJ: Are we a victim of that? If that's your question, I guess so.

SI: Shouldn't Augusta change with the times? Or is it a timeless
place?

HJ: In many ways, it may be timeless. But there's nothing wrong
with that.

SI: But the club has changed by admitting black members.

HJ: Because it was the right thing to do.

SI: Have you been hurt by the criticism?

HJ: [Smiling.] The only thing that really got me a little bit was
being called, in some newspaper article, "an old coot."

SI: Have your wife and four daughters expressed interest...?

HJ: In becoming members of Augusta National? [Chuckles softly.]
Never. Never. I'm coming down here Thanksgiving, and I'll have 12
of my family here. It'll be two foursomes of son-in-laws and
grandsons and one of my wife and a couple of daughters and one
granddaughter.

SI: What have you heard from strangers?

HJ: It's all been encouraging. All those letters over there [he
points to four giant binders on his desk] are letters of
encouragement. Less than one percent are the other way. There are
over 500 there. And we've had checks sent to us for support
amounting to just under $1,000. [Laughs.]

SI: To pay for...?

HJ: Whatever. The lost sponsorship. [Laughs.] We send it back and
thank them. I read all the letters, and we answer them all.

SI: Even the negative ones?

HJ: [Stops laughing.] No, we don't answer those.

SI: And you're really not bothered by the criticism?

HJ: I've taken this pretty well. But I would say this: that I've
made mistakes, but for the most part I feel comfortable with the
way I've lived my life, particularly regarding my fellow man.

SI: By "fellow man" you mean men and women?

HJ: [Turning red.] Yes.

For the full transcript of Steve Rushin's interview with Hootie
Johnson, go to cnnsi.com/si_online.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
"That's what this club was founded on," Hootie Johnson says.
"Friends, playing golf and just ... being men."