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Burk considers strategy for 2003 action

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, will meet with her board early next week to begin plotting final strategy in its attempt to persuade Augusta National Golf Club to admit female members before the 2003 Masters tournament in April.

One of the options, she said in an interview Tuesday, will be to challenge current members to resign from the club, which has never had a female member. The group would especially target those members who have told Burk they are working from the inside toward achieving the goal of admitting women.

"We could issue a direct challenge for them to resign," she said. "We've been hearing from people like Lloyd Ward [president of the U.S. Olympic Committee] that they're working on our behalf from the inside. But it may be time to say, 'Look, whatever you're doing, nothing has changed,' and they ought to resign."

Burk said she would like to have the new year start off with Augusta National announcing a change in its membership policy, but she was not optimistic that will happen. Thomas Wyman, former head of CBS who resigned from the club last month because of the all-male policy, said at the time there were 50 to 75 members among the total of 300 who had favored admitting women.

"I wish it would be settled," Burk said. "I'd love to see it settled because it's going to be settled eventually anyway. If we have to mount protests, then we will do it. It just seems like such a tremendous amount of wasted resources on both sides for a policy that won't hold up anyway. . . . What I wish is that they would see that the endgame has to be them opening their membership. They need to take the high road and just do it."

A spokesman for Augusta National said the club would not comment on Burk's remarks.

Burk also said her group "will not at this time" ask players to boycott the first major championship of the season, preferring to focus on the club membership itself, especially those who are currently chief executives or operating officers of a number of American companies.

The NCWO has launched a Web site (www.augustadiscriminates.org) targeting corporations with executives or board members who are also Augusta National members. She previously has asked those corporations to justify allowing their executives to continue to be members of the club in writing, even though their corporate policies oppose gender discrimination.

"We've gotten several letters from corporations -- Ford and Coors -- saying these are private memberships and has nothing to do with the company, and they don't see the issue," Burk said. "We tell them we're happy to publish their letters, too. They just don't get it.

"I'm also reading that some companies are still being cautious in setting up their entertainment plans for the tournament. We are going to be looking closely at companies to see whose corporate jets show up, and whose stockholders are footing the bills. It's a level of scrutiny they haven't had in the past."

Burk said she also is prepared to pursue legal action to set up picket lines in front of the club during the Masters. In an interview with The Washington Post in November, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength indicated he would not allow protests along Washington Road, the main thoroughfare in front of the club, because of safety concerns. Burk said she was told by a reporter for the Augusta Chronicle Tuesday that Strength still plans to keep protesters far away from the club.

"My reaction is who is going to pay for all this police protection?" she said. "Was there a public referendum on it? We will discuss it with our attorneys because there are civil rights issues involved here. People who are interested in making social change know how to be arrested. I'd regret it if that happened. But I can't accept the kind of intimidation that's being put out there by this sheriff.

"I can't imagine the city of Augusta or the people of Georgia will want to be cast in a bad light if this continues. It's going to perpetuate a stereotype those good people have worked so long to eliminate. It's a disservice to the people and their state."

Strength did not return a telephone call to his office Tuesday.

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