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Spotlight returns to Augusta again

Augusta National Golf Club, the home course for the Masters, was in the news again Monday and only partly because of next week's golf tournament.

In Washington, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other Congress members introduced a bill stating that no elected or appointed government official "should belong to a club that discriminates on the basis of sex or race."

The bill, filed a week before the tournament (April 10-13), is largely a swing at the club's men-only membership policy.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., joined Lewis in filing the non-binding "sense of the Congress" bill. It has 15 co-sponsors, including presidential hopefuls Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., but its prospects for passage are doubtful.

"This legislation is not just about allowing women to join a few fancy clubs," Maloney said. "It's fundamentally about shaping the American ideal of an even playing field."

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations and the leading gadfly against the club's membership policy, railed against the idea of public figures joining gender-discriminating institutions.

Earlier, Burk contended she was misunderstood when she said the all-male membership at the club was an affront to women in the armed forces. She said she was trying to compare women returning from war and facing discrimination to the way blacks who fought in World War II came back to segregation in the United States.

Meanwhile, the club's chairman, Hootie Johnson, said he was scrapping the club's new policy banning former champions from playing in the Masters after they turn 65. Instead, they'll be allowed to tee it up as long as they feel competitive.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who have 10 green jackets between them and are the only Masters champions who are club members, convinced Johnson to abandon his controversial policy, which was due to start in 2004.

Palmer, 73, plans to play next week and also next year, which would give him 50 appearances in the major championship he won four times.

The club also announced the addition of several players, bringing next week's field to 94. Monday was the deadline for entering the tournament, the year's first major championship. Kirk Triplett's closing round of 67 at The Players Championship on Sunday got him into the tournament, giving him just enough points to move up to No. 49 in the world rankings. The top 50 not already eligible are invited. John Huston (No. 39), Tom Lehman (No. 44), and Tim Clark of South Africa (No. 45), also qualified through the world rankings.

Jay Haas and Chad Campell qualified by finishing among the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list after The Players Championship.


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