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The Loop

Augusta National member dies weeks after celebrating membership milestone

May 27, 2016

Augusta National Golf Club members do not readily discuss club business, notably the cost of membership. But one member, Wheelock Whitney Jr., exempted perhaps by seniority, once disclosed what it once cost.

When Whitney joined, the initiation fee, he told St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters, was $3,500 and the annual dues were $600.

The year was 1966.

Last month, Whitney and wife Kathleen Blatz journeyed to Augusta National, where he was feted for having reached his 50th year of membership.

Last week, Whitney, 89, died.

Whitney was not unlike so many other Augusta members. He was wealthy, politically connected (George H.W. Bush was a fraternity brother at Yale), a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota (he lost to Eugene McCarthy), and he loved Augusta National.

“Wheelock’s greatest passion was sports. He played them, he watched them, he lived and breathed them,” an obituary read, noting that he was instrumental in bringing the Twins and the North Stars to Minnesota and was a part-owner of the Minnesota Vikings.

“He was a competitive tennis player and golfer. Wheelock played golf all over the world, but his favorite course was the Augusta National Golf Club. Last month he and his wife Kathleen Blatz, who was the Chief Justice of the MN Supreme Court when they married in 2005, went to Augusta to toast his 50 years of membership--an accomplishment that was warmly applauded by members and guests alike.”

“Among Wheelock Whitney's prized possessions was a 1966 signed personal letter from icon Bobby Jones inviting him to join Augusta National,” Walters Tweeted on Thursday.

When Augusta National finally admitted female members in 2012, Whitney was thrilled.

“The world keeps changing, and getting women into Augusta is a change in the right direction,” Whitney told Walters. “It was inevitable. Secretly, I’ve had terrible luck trying to persuade [Augusta National chairman] Billy Payne to put in senior tees. So now, maybe, we’ll get ladies tees and I can play off of them, and so can my wife Kathleen.”

At the time, Whitney, already a member of Augusta National for 46 years, said, “I'd love to make it 50 years, so I've got to hang in there for a while.”

Whitney hung in long enough to realize his goal.