Magnolia Lane, which leads to the front door of Augusta National, is adorned by 61 trees planted in the 19th century. And so, in a manner of speaking, is the club's membership directory, which for 71 years has been entirely male. Last week Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson—at 71, a year younger than the average member—agreed to an interview that had more ground rules than Fenway Park, which explains the following Q-and-A format, a kind of Quotations from Chairman J. Seven weeks removed from heart surgery, swaddled in his club blazer, betwixt two paintings by member emeritus Dwight Eisenhower, Johnson looked relaxed in his office, suggesting, in spite of all you may have read, that it really is easy bein' green.
HJ: First, we want to make it clear that we have no timetable for bringing a woman into Augusta. The time may come when we have women in our club. But for the time being we hold dear our traditions and our constitutional right to choose and associate. [These last two sentences are read from a typewritten sheet.]
SI: Do you regret having reacted publicly—and angrily—to [head of the National Council of Women's Organizations] Martha Burk's demand that you admit a woman as a member?
HJ: We thought we were doing the right thing. We probably should have toned it down. But we'd been attacked. And she threatened us. And she threatened our sponsors. So there was a little anger there. [Pronounced, in Johnson's magnificent Southern accent, as "ANG-uh THEY-uh."]
SI: Can one woman really threaten the rich and powerful men of Augusta National?
HJ: She threatened us, but she was not a threat. She is not a threat. Do you follow what I'm saying? It's been an irritation.
SI: Still, has she put you in a no-win situation?
HJ: Oh, no. I don't feel like that a'tall. I think that the Masters and Augusta National will go on, and this issue will fade away. We are a single-gender club, and we think that we're in good company, that single-gender organizations are part of the fabric of America—with sororities and fraternities, Junior League, with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Smith College. And for us to be singled out is totally unfair. [Pronounced "un-FAY-uh."]
SI: But women played 1,000-plus rounds at Augusta last year....
HJ: And I've been asked, "Well, if you have so many women down here, why do you object to having a woman member?" And I say, "That does beg the question, but...." We have four-member parties, and they're all men—[or all women; coed foursomes are proscribed at Augusta]—and that's what our private club is all about. That's what this club was founded on by Bobby Jones: Friends, getting together and playing golf, and just...being men.