Augusta, My Eyes Turn To You
This is the time of year when storied Augusta National winds down its activities and prepares to close, as it does annually, for the summer months. The club will go dark until late September, and yet, what better time for The Women’s Masters.
Yes, this is an article advocating a private club to think beyond its members and see the larger picture, namely, growing the game. The prominent organizations in the game – the United States Golf Association, the Royal & Ancient, and most schools and colleges around the world all hold women’s golf events. But not Augusta National.
Beyond Augusta National’s exceptional stature, though, is the fact that golf’s participation rates are dropping. The country club lifestyle of 50 years ago, as epitomized by Augusta National, anchored the game’s growth, but since has shrunk. More families require two incomes to meet demands of mortgages and college fees. That means less time for leisure activities, like family memberships at golf facilities.
Here’s the scary fact that has course owners staring at their ceilings late at night: Millennials aren’t taking up the game like younger people of previous generations, citing “too much time” and “too difficult to get good” as their reasoning.
So, Augusta National, my eyes turn to you – the exceptional club with unfathomable riches due to the annual broadcast fees and merchandise sales that come from The Masters. The club added a press center this year that reportedly cost $65 million – a press center that’s used only once a year.
Why not put it to use for another week? That $65 million could go a long ways to bringing attention to a tournament that would be revered around the world but also is very much needed for the health of the game.
Will the club consider it? It probably already has. Will the members go for it? No. And that’s one reason why I won’t be joining anytime soon should I get invited [Editor’s note: He won’t]. Augusta National should take it upon itself to host The Women’s Masters two weeks after the Masters ends because:
First, golf’s participation rates are dropping, though in some sectors it is growing – namely teen girls. South Korea and China have experienced growth in the participation of women. Junior high schools in San Diego County, to name one place, are offering golf lessons in PE classes.
Also, more and more courses are marketing to that “lost generation” – middle-aged women who have plenty of free time and finances to take up the game. You can read about it here [Editor’s warning: Gratuitous self-praise by author]. The Women’s Masters would add more fuel to this trend.
Second, women account for 50.1 percent of the world’s population. There are plenty of studies to show their purchasing power is quite high, and that no major brand can afford to not cater to their needs. Yes, I’m talking Mercedes Benz, AT&T and IBM, the sponsors of The Masters.
I’d understand if those companies said they can’t spend more. There are plenty of others willing to associate their products with Augusta National – hello, Apple and Samsung. Let those two competitors outbid each other for the right to have their products be seen when the tournament is televised in China, India and South America.
Third, it’s cool to compare. Men and women rarely play on the same playing fields, with track & field, basketball and soccer for the most part being the exceptions. One of the best things the USGA did was to host the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, so spectators could see how the two fields managed to handle the same course.
What do Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie have in common? That course in 2014. Granted, the women’s tournament would be shorter in yardage, but the drama would be just has high.
Finally: A Women’s Masters would attract more interest in the game, bringing more people to the courses you and I play, and that helps keep courses open. That’s important to all of us.
So, yes, a Women’s Masters comes down to this: It’s in the best interest of the game.
If any administrators of the Augusta National or its members read this, you have a unique position in this game, and your actions go a long ways to how the game is perceived. The club made the right strides a few years ago in admitting women members. Now is a good time to host a tournament and bring the world’s best women to your storied layout.