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Martha Burk's fight against Augusta National's all-male policy gaining momentum, she says

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
Martha Burk
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Five years after her infamous protest at Augusta National, Martha Burk continues her fight against discrimination. (Courtesy of Marthaburk.com)

In 2003, feminist activist Martha Burk led a protest on Augusta National to publicize the men-only membership policies at the club that hosts the Masters. Five years later, many golf and Augusta fans sit back in the false knowledge that Burk didn't accomplish anything. But Burk, and the facts, disagree.

"History has vindicated us in terms of what we did and what you're continuing to do," said Burk in a telephone interview. "I don't think you'll find many people defending the club. However, their actions are still being tolerated by the membership."

Because while some felt that Burk's protest was a one-time publicity grab, they missed the big picture, she says. And they underestimated her tenaciousness. Burk's "Women on Wall Street Project" targets companies that have CEOs and other executives who are Augusta National members. The organization has filed class-action gender-discrimination suits on behalf of female employees of those companies.

And they've won nearly $80 million thus far in settlements. Last year, the Women on Wall Street Project reached a $46 million settlement with Morgan Stanley on behalf of eight female employees. Recently, they reached a $33 million settlement with Smith Barney.

Both settlements contained a provision that the companies will cease reimbursing expenses related to Augusta National or other clubs that base membership on race or gender. Burk estimates the number could reach more than $200 million before it's over.

"We announced immediately after we announced the protest that we would go after the corporations that support Augusta National," Burk said. "We have gotten $79 million to date and it will continue to rise."

For Burk and others, the settlements prove what she has said all along - this is not about Augusta National, it's about women being treated differently than their male counterparts solely because they are women. And while many argue that all-male golf clubs are perfectly legal and that one need only look at the all-female fitness chain Curves for an example of men being excluded, Burk will have nothing to do with it.

"I don't see international mergers and transactions taking place on the treadmills at Curves," said Burk, 66. "I'm not going to defend Curves because I think it's a slippery slope. But it's a silly comparison."

Martha Burk eyes the PGA Tour

Burk said she was extremely disappointed with the PGA Tour and Commissioner Tim Finchem, as well. While the PGA Tour bylaws have wording that the Tour will not support clubs that have discriminatory practices, it got around that by not being involved in the Masters - even though it counts the Masters in its yearly statistics.

But Finchem and crew have likely not heard the last from Burk, who says she hopes one day to go after the PGA Tour for its complicity with Augusta National. The Tour, after all, is in the non-profit sector, she notes.

"The NOCW doesn't have the funds to fight the PGA Tour now, but we're looking down the line to work to get their tax exemption revoked," Burk said.

For Burk, her work against Augusta National's all-male policies are a drop in the ocean on a resume that would earn her a spot in the feminism hall of fame, should such a place exist. A best-selling author, Burk has been the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO). She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington, and currently is the money editor for Ms. Magazine, as well as being a syndicated newspaper columnist, among other things. She is also a wife, mother and grandmother.

For Burk, the 2003 protest at the Masters was a time of both turmoil and triumph, while she developed good relationships with many in the media and others, she also received countless threats and attended the protest with a bulletproof vest and security guards. The FBI even stepped in for a time after she received death threats over the phone.

In the end, however, Burk is proud of what she and others accomplished in 2003, and feels that the general public agrees with her that Augusta National's all-male membership policy is discriminatory.

"We knew the rightness of the cause, for the most part the public and press was behind us," said Burk. "I'm very glad we did it, I feel we made some change."

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Augusta National Female Member?

    Lakeisha Jackson wrote on: Apr 3, 2012

    Billy Payne, Chairman of the Augusta National, has proven that he's not afraid to change some of their long-time traditions...and Ms. Rometty would be a fine candidate for membership.
    But Martha Burk needs to keep her mouth shut about it. The worst thing that could happen would be for the Augusta National to get the idea...if they did extend a membership invitation to Ms. Rometty...that she (Burk) would then claim that she had "won the battle" and forced them to. We'll see if Ms. Burk really wants to see the club get a female member, or if she'd rather have the point to argue over.
    And just for the record: Over one-third of the groups in the National Council of Women's Organizations...that Ms. Burk was Chairwoman of when she led her protest...don't allow men to join. I guess that "righteous indignation" only goes in one direction.


  • martha burke

    steven wrote on: Mar 30, 2012

    This is such garbage, Augusta national has the right to admit who they want and when they want, it is a private club, I am sick of hearing of this issue, tell you what, I am going to go apply for a membership at the Women's Golf Club of Toronto..oh wait I forgot, they don't admit men as members, well, maybe I will go apply at Goodlife Fitness down the road from me, damn, again I can't, its an all women's club.....amazing eh?


  • female golfers

    Richard wrote on: Apr 10, 2009

    I never really understood what the problem was about discrimination in the golfing world until my golfing daughter one day complained that she had to wait on slower playing men and how rude some of them were to her on the golf course. My daughter, who is a scratch golfer and only 16 could beat most men, including myself, but still faces daily gender challenges on the links!


      • RE: female golfers

        Sean Ingram wrote on: Mar 11, 2010

        Tell her to learn to deal with it, it's the real world.


  • Not all women agree

    Jules wrote on: Apr 9, 2009

    I assure you, I never miss a chance to attend the Master's. I am a woman and I don't feel excluded a bit! Next she will demand that there must be women team mates of all men football, hockey and basketball teams. She is a discredit to her gender. Tiger I will be in the ranks, just like everyother year!


  • women at masters

    Ben wrote on: Apr 9, 2009

    I believe the Augusta Club is in violation of the law every day and should be closed. I think its a disgrace that Tiger and the fat guy who is always chasing him -- what's his name -- Mickelberger, oh, well, let's call him Lefty, would put themselves in a position of dishonoring not only women, but people of color and the working class the world over. My dream is not to see women at Augusta. It is to see Augusta closed, and turned into a parking lot.


      • RE: women at masters

        kerry wrote on: Apr 11, 2012

        lmao!!!!!!!!! love your comments. classic about the fat guy


  • Martha Burk

    mary ann c golden wrote on: Mar 7, 2009

    Oh mercy Martha give it up. No one wants to see you old broads out there making a mess.Allow the men to be men.You go find somthing else to do.How about cleaning and cooking.Does that interest you? Or taking care of your grand children.Don't you like men?


      • RE: Martha Burk

        Mercedes wrote on: Apr 10, 2009

        ....this has been written by a man, who does not have enough pride in his gender and created a fake name......


      • RE: Martha Burk

        ben wrote on: Apr 9, 2009

        It's not Martha, but Mary Ann that is the problem. No one should play, or even attend, an event that so dishonors the human race. Board it up and turn it into a bird refuge.


          • RE: RE: Martha Burk

            millsy wrote on: Sep 13, 2011

            you are a fool, women have womens only clubs, as the lpga tour is a woman only organisation, political correctness gone mad


          • RE: RE: Martha Burk

            jenne wrote on: Apr 11, 2010

            Go back to your kitchen and leave the men alone. Or, go join another golf club (if they even let you in, I certainly wouldn't). You are a toublemaker.


  • Martha had nothing to do with lawsuit

    Deborah wrote on: Apr 15, 2008

    Shame on you Martha! I am a lead plaintiff in amochaev vs Smithbarney.
    You had nothing to do with anything.
    How desparate for attention and self promoting of you. I was at the press release, and part of negotiations and GOLF had nothing to do with it and nothing to do with you.


  • Private Golf Clubs

    EG wrote on: Apr 13, 2008

    I agree with Martha Burk 100% and laud her for her efforts.
    Private golf clubs are way behind the curve when it comes to equality for women and will be for years. Who to blame. Not just the men who belong to these clubs as there are many women, the spouses of male members, who stand by and not only do nothing but often outright impede and ridicule anyone who dares to. I've seen it, I know it, as a golf professional who has worked at many private clubs I can tell you it was hard to miss. It is a ludicrous situation in this day and age to deny women the same rights as their male friends and husbands. To have corporations and business leaders that women work for and support paying the dues at the exclusive Augusta National speaks volumes about the mindsets of these institutions.


  • $33 million Citi group bias payout

    Goldelock wrote on: Apr 13, 2008

    The complaint, Amochaev et al filed by 4 Northern California women in CA 9th Circuit Federal Court was done so independently of any activity of Ms. Burke and the organizations she represents. The women came forward on their own accord to represent similarily situated women at Smith Barney and spent many years working closely with lead counsel in San Francisco to negotiate an agreeement with Citigroup. After the women filed the complaint, Ms. Burke publically supported their endeavor and hitched her wagon to their horse. Although her support was welcomed, for Ms. Burke to suggest that her organization filed the complaint on behalf of the women and reached the recent settlement is an insult to the women who took the risk and came forward and the many individuals who negotiated the proposed agreement.


      • RE: $33 million Citi group bias payout

        Martha Burk wrote on: Apr 13, 2008

        Goldelock is just wrong. At the time the suit was filed, there were joint press releases issued by the law firms and NCWO. The law firms also linked their press releases to google searches on "Martha Burk", and the fact that this suit is a result of the Women on Wall Street project is well documented.


  • Hypocritical women

    Mad Max wrote on: Apr 12, 2008

    I shilled out 20k for my wife's engagement ring. She returned the favor by sleeping with my second cousin for two years before I found out.
    I left her but she kept the ring, as well as the house.
    Where is the damn equality in that?


      • RE: Hypocritical women

        Old Guy wrote on: Apr 12, 2008

        What were you thinking when you proposed for heaven's sake! Start going to church, you might meet someone with morals.


  • martha

    merle wrote on: Apr 11, 2008

    martha put up 130 million and buy your on golf course thne you can be a member


  • Only when it benefits them...

    Women are Hypocrites wrote on: Apr 11, 2008

    I hate feminists, because they want women to be treated the same as men, they want equality in everything.
    But when it comes to divorces , women can't accept equality, and instead want to be treated like the victims and want more than half, all the time.
    If you want to be treated the same as men, then it must apply to everything, including the divorce proceedings.


      • RE: Only when it benefits them...

        millsy wrote on: Sep 19, 2011



  • Mad Martha

    Greg Pryor wrote on: Apr 11, 2008

    Do I get the bottom line?
    It is OK for just men to meet about business deals but just not at a mens only golf club?


      • RE: Mad Martha

        Old Guy wrote on: Apr 12, 2008

        The point is that the corporations she has targeted have been supporting the memberships and expenses of their senior executives at an establishment which institutionalizes discriminatory practices against more than half the population. While the membership of a private club has the right to determine qualifications of its membership, should that club also get tax benefits both directly for itself and indirectly for its members while it practices discrimination? It was not that long ago that Augusta National had a whites-only policy, but that changed. Perhaps you should get reacquainted with the US Constitution.


          • RE: RE: Mad Martha

            Kenn wrote on: Nov 3, 2009

            The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants Augusta National’s members, and every other private club for that matter, the right to choose with whom they wish to freely associate -- whether they be white, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, tall, short, fat, thin, or even male or female. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, "freedom of association receives [constitutional] protection as a fundamental element of personal liberty" and "freedom of association therefore plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate."
            So take your lack of constitutional knowledge back to school and brush up. Private groups are not beholden to equality laws because they are PRIVATE.


  • Martha

    Dan wrote on: Apr 11, 2008

    "Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management."
    That speaks volumes for how far we have to go. Cause I have a hunch where the opinion of Woldgolf's management lies...


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