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Women's issues continue to hound Augusta

The war of words over Augusta National’s all-male membership continued yesterday with Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, calling for players to take “a moral stand.” The club sent a series of talking points to CBS, summarizing its position on the issues Burk discussed on ESPN Radio and in several published newspaper interviews.

A club spokesman said the talking points did not represent an official statement from Augusta National or its chairman, William “Hootie” Johnson, but were sent to the network as background information. ESPN posted a story on its Web site detailing those points, including Augusta National’s assertion that “this is not a legal issue. The Masters has a constitutional right to its private membership.”

Last Friday, Johnson announced in a statement that the club had informed its three main television sponsors for the Masters tournament on CBS Sports — IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup — the club would be airing 12½ hours of commercial-free coverage of the 2003 event. It said it wanted to shield those companies from the controversy surrounding the issue of admitting women to the club.

CBS Sports President Sean McManus declined to comment yesterday, but network sources indicated the network had not yet heard from Burk. CBS has said publicly it will continue to air the 2003 tournament, with or without sponsors. The network has carried The Masters since 1956.

Burk said in several newspaper interviews over the weekend, including comments to The Post, that she soon would be having discussions with CBS about not televising the event, and would also like to see more players speak out in favor of women being allowed to join. Yesterday on ESPN Radio’s “The Dan Patrick Show,” she also said,

“I think Augusta will eventually see that it will be in the best interests of their club . . . to do the right thing and allow women members.”

Afterward, she said, “I don’t see anything very much different than what they’ve already said.” She added that a letter likely will go out to CBS this week, after speaking with NCWO attorneys.

Among the Augusta talking points was a statement saying “the club possibly will have a woman member in the future, but it should be the club’s decision, not the decision of an outside group that knows little about the club or the tournament.”

Also “Dr. Burk is now telling individuals what to watch on television. In three online polls conducted this weekend, nearly 90 percent of respondents said they would continue to watch the Masters on CBS. Over 4.3 million women watched the Masters last year.

“The Masters is being used as a symbol. Several other clubs do not allow women to play or even enter the grounds. Women play at Augusta National regularly, and there are no restrictions on tee times. Women played over 1,000 rounds at the club last year.”

Johnson declined to comment through a spokesman.

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