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Don't make Woods' return a discrimination issue

In the four months since the Tiger Woods scandal broke, I have seen some far-fetched story angles attempted by members of my profession. As if the admitted facts of Woods' incredible double life weren't enough, there seems to be a great desire to milk every possible detail of this soap opera for all it's worth and then some. Just this week, there was analysis of Woods' use of past tense when talking about his love for his wife after ESPN's Tom Rinaldi asked him why he had ever gotten married. And there was speculation over whether Woods would really wear his new Buddhist bracelet when playing the Masters in a couple of weeks, considering "very few tour golfers wear anything on their forward wrist because it interferes with their swing." (As if a 2-millimeter-thick piece of string around his arm would really mess with the guy's clubhead speed.)

But the most implausible news angle to emerge in the wake of Woods' announcement that he'll return to professional golf at the Masters on April 8 came from on March 22. In a three-page story, writer Russell Goldman attempts to dust off the dead-and-buried issue of Augusta National's male-only membership policy and analyze its significance to Woods' return. In the article, he quotes USA Today columnist Christine Brennan as saying: "Is there something tone-deaf about this [decision]? Sure there is. But the male-dominated golf world has never really cared about the issue of discrimination against women at Augusta National. That this is the place that Tiger Woods decides to come back with these apparently well-documented issues that he has with women is ironic at best, and, I guess you could say, a slap in the face to women at worst."


"A slap in the face of women." Let's see, I'm a woman. Some would even call me a radical feminist (or at least I'm frequently accused of being one by readers who respond to my advice column). Does Augusta's exclusionary membership policy make me take offense to Tiger choosing the venue for his return? Do I feel "slapped in the face?" Not at all. On the list of 100 reasons to be upset with Tiger Woods, this falls somewhere between the way he scratches his nose and his fondness for mock turtlenecks. And I know the Augusta membership story well; I was an editor at Golf For Women magazine when it published the National Magazine Award-nominated article "Ladies Need Not Apply" that ignited Brennan's and Martha Burke's initial crusade against the club back in 2002. It was a story that rightfully raised eyebrows then but was dragged out for a good 18 months too long (ultimately, whether you agree or disagree, Augusta is a private club and as such has the right to set its own policies). Eight years later, it's a complete bore.

There's plenty to be repulsed by when it comes to Woods' transgressions, especially if you're a woman. But the idea that he is somehow making things worse by returning to a club that doesn't allow women members is pretty laughable. Brennan and are giving Woods way too much credit if they think the issue is even on his radar screen right now. It's safe to assume he has more pressing matters on his mind, such as salvaging his ruined reputation and marriage. So let's move on from the Augusta membership policy and focus on the things we really should be upset about--like the disparity in sponsorship dollars between the LPGA and PGA Tours.

As a columnist for a national newspaper, Brennan is in a powerful position to help impact change for women across America, and she's usually right on the mark. But if she keeps wasting her breath on an issue that is completely irrelevant (and in today's economy, totally uninteresting), people will stop listening to the good things she has to say. And that would be a shame.

__UPDATE:__On Sunday March 28th, New York's Daily News also ran a story on the topic of Woods, Augusta and the no-female-members policy with several new quotes from Martha Burke.

--Stina Sternberg