GOLF-PGA-TOUR-AUGUSTA:PGA Tour refuses to take stance over Augusta membership
By Simon Evans
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - The PGA Tour will not take a stance over Augusta National's no-women membership policy or determine whether it is right or wrong, Commissioner Tim Finchem said on Wednesday.
Augusta National's membership policy came under fire during last month's Masters tournament with club chairman Billy Payne refusing to discuss whether change was on the agenda.
Asked how the PGA Tour, which includes the Masters as an official money event, views the policy, Finchem said there was no change in their stance.
"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," Finchem said at a news conference ahead of Thursday's first round of the Players Championships.
"I know some people don't like that position and I appreciate that and understand their reasoning but that's the decision we've made."
However, Finchem said the PGA Tour's approach to regular venues was demanding of open-membership policies.
"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," said Finchem.
"In the case of the Masters, we have concluded a number of times now 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. They are not doing anything illegal."
Augusta National's membership policy has been an issue for years but it took on added significance after Ginni Rometty became chief executive officer of IBM in January.
IBM, the world's largest technology services company, is a long-standing sponsor of the Masters and its past four CEO's were granted membership to Augusta National.
But the club now faces a dilemma of whether to change its policy to allow Rometty to join or spurn one of its major sponsors.
U.S. President Barack Obama stepped into the debate during the build-up to the tournament.
"His personal opinion is that women should be admitted," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last month, saying he had spoken to Obama about the issue. "We are kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything."
Payne has followed the long-standing Augusta National policy of declining to discuss membership issues.
Augusta's invitation-only membership has been steeped in secrecy since the conservative club opened in 1932. Women are allowed to play the course if invited by a member but cannot become members themselves.
The club does not reveal its full list of members, believed to be around 300, although it is known that some of the most powerful men from industry and finance, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are members.
(Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Frank Pingue)