Whether it’s the legendary Amen Corner, Magnolia Lane or the fabulous Azaleas, Augusta National is the scene by which all golfers can aspire to one day play.
But as we again converge around our TV screens for this year’s Masters tournament, it’s worth sparing a thought for how great it be to see the best female golfers also tee it up at the prestigious course.
World No.1 Lydia Ko spoke out last year about her wish to see a Women’s Masters hosted by Augusta, and the potential of such a tournament to grow the game.
‘I think that would be pretty cool.'
‘I think there's so much talent out here so there's no reason why [not]. Especially because we dream of maybe getting to play at Augusta. If that day comes, even if I'm not the player to play it, I think it'd be really special and I think it would grow our tour.’
In theory the idea seems a brilliant one.
The LPGA and more broadly the women’s game is on a perpetual search for greater recognition. Meanwhile Augusta National has earned the reputation of one of the world’s most elitist and sexist golf clubs.
With Augusta National having become one of the most recognisable venues in sport, a Women’s Masters could effectively solve both problems. The club could shed its bad reputation once and for all whilst the women’s game would be able to showcase itself on one of the world’s biggest stages.
Unfortunately, the truth is that we are unlikely to see a ‘Women’s Masters’ added to the LPGA schedule any time soon.
Augusta National is infamous for refusing to bow to public pressure for reform. A decade ago they stonewalled Martha Burk’s campaign for women members despite sponsors siding with her cause, only allowing women members nearly ten years later once the storm had calmed and they could do so on their own terms.
The reality is that whilst the Masters remains one of, if not the most, loved tournament on the golfing calendar, Augusta National need not play to anyone else’s tune. Whether dissenting voices are raised or not, the world’s best male golfers, and the eyes of the world, will continue to descend on this otherwise quiet corner of Georgia on a yearly basis. Indeed, the club's exclusivity only adds to its prestige.
Following statements by Paula Creamer three years ago, about the potential of a female equivalent to the Masters, the club’s chairman Billy Payne was quick to squash the idea.
Citing the effort it took to prepare Augusta for the Masters and the limited window in which the members were able to play the course, Payne said,
‘I don’t think that we would ever host another tournament.’
But is this true? Pinehurst successfully hosted the US Women’s Open in 2014 two weeks after the men’s equivalent was played over the same course.
If Augusta were to be given the same two-week window it would enable time for the grass to recover whilst still allowing the world to see the course in full bloom.
The course would need to be adjusted to a suitable length for the ladies. Augusta National only currently has two sets of tees: Member (6,365 yards) and Masters (7,435 yards). The shorter distance is 14 percent less than the tournament markers, a little shy of the ideal advocated for an elite women's yardage being 88 percent of that for men for the same challenge. (Pinehurst No. 2 hit that equation almost perfectly in 2014.)
Nonetheless until the club’s membership changes its stance, a Women’s Masters remains nothing but a fantasy.
We can but dream.
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