Hootie, he's a wise old owl. Played us all like fiddles. He knew
we media types would stereotype him, knew we couldn't resist
painting him as a rich Southern bigot, a ritzy cracker. He's
probably chuckling up his green sleeve right now at how he
manipulated us, outfoxed us, spun us and outdone us to push his
The signs were there all the time, for William Woodward Johnson
has a long record as a public figure. A prominent South Carolina
banker and progressive politician, he fought for racial equality
in Strom Thurmond's state long before Trent Lott even knew his
foot could reach his mouth. After serving as a Democratic member
of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1957 and '58,
Johnson championed integration of the state's colleges. He was
the first businessman to call for removing the Confederate flag
from the statehouse. "He has always come down on the side of
access and equality," said U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn (D.,
S.C.), who is the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. And
Johnson wasn't just for civil rights. He stood for gender equity
too. Who do you think was behind the University of South
Carolina's naming its business school after Rainwater Inc.
executive Darla Moore--the first such honor for a woman in U.S.
history? Hootie, that's who. "It was his idea," said the school's
dean, Joel Smith.
This is no Neanderthal. This is the man who invited the South
Carolina women's golf team to play Augusta National and let the
Lady Gamecocks use the champions' locker room, an honor denied
the likes of Bill Gates and Phil Mickelson. "The real Hootie
doesn't discriminate against anybody," said former South Carolina
governor Robert McNair. And the real Hootie is surrounded by
women: Pierrine, his wife of 51 years, and their four daughters.
In 1998 this golfing Phil Donahue became chairman of the
notoriously conservative Augusta National Golf Club. For 71 years
the home of the Masters had gotten away with excluding women, as
many British Open venues still do. That policy might have lasted
for decades more if not for Hootie, who quickly saw that Augusta
National could never be reformed from the inside. The club would
have to be forced to do the right thing. All he needed was the
February 10, 2003
Martha Burk to the rescue. When the chairwoman of the obscure
National Council of Women's Organizations sent a letter to
Johnson last June asking him to add a woman to Augusta National's
290 members, she expected a pro forma blow-off: Thanks for
writing. We'll look into it. Had Hootie sent that letter, there
would be no controversy, but he was too smart for that. Instead,
the captain of Augusta National's captains of industry created a
ruckus. Johnson fired back a response calling her suggestions
"offensive and coercive." He went worldwide with a press release,
saying Augusta National "will not be bullied, threatened or
intimidated" and wouldn't change "at the point of a bayonet."
His plan worked. Burk became an instant celebrity, surrounded by
klieg lights and microphones, admitting she would "kill for this
kind of publicity." Soon there was fierce pressure on Augusta
National to let a woman join the club.
Burk has Hootie to thank. He cleverly made it appear as if he was
shooting himself in the foot when in fact he's a master of
misdirection. From now on, when we speak of women's champions,
we'll talk about Cleopatra, Madonna, Serena and Hootie--the man
who made it inevitable that Augusta National will soon have a
What's next for the media maestro? The next logical step, of
course, is to get a woman into the world's most famous
You know Hoo is the man for the job. All he needs to do is call a
press conference, put on that drawl he uses in public and say,
"Way-ul, hay-ul, that Sorenstam gal cain't play a'tall." Then he
can sit back and watch the sparks fly. Knowing Hootie, we'll soon
be calling his tournament the Ms.-sters.
Johnson realized that Augusta National would never be reformed
from within. The club would have to be forced to change.