LPGA veteran Paula Creamer received broad support from her hundreds of thousands of followers when she first called for a women's Masters two years ago on Twitter.
What the 2010 US Open champion did not have, however, was the backing of Augusta National. Namely, chairman Billy Payne, who said in response: "I don't think so. I believe I had that question last year or the year before. We have a very short member season at Augusta National, it's seven months only. The time that we dedicate to the preparation and conduct of the tournament is already extensive. I don't think that we would ever host another tournament here."
The Masters is bathed in tradition: the par-three contest on Wednesday afternoon, where players have their spouses, parents, friends, or children caddy for them; the pink azaleas dotting the course; Butler’s Cabin; the white caddie jumpsuits; the pimento cheese sandwich; and last but not least, Amen Corner.
So exalted has the Masters become in the public consciousness that getting tickets is damn near impossible, unless you know a player . . . or God. In fact, it’s a long-running rumour that many lapsed churchgoers only rediscovered their faith in the hopes that Masters tickets would suddenly fall into their hands.
The tournament itself is undeniably exciting, as the very best male golfers in the world tee it up for a bid at history. It's where legends such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus all hoisted the trophy, and were draped with an oversized green jacket. It's where Tiger Woods broke his maiden with his epochal, record-shattering win 20 years ago, clapping back at Augusta's blatant and known racism in the most satisfying way imaginable. The first of men's golf's four bedrock events in any given year, it sets the tone for the rest of the season.
So it should surprise no one that players on the LPGA Tour are behind Creamer’s pitch for a women’s event at American golf’s hallowed ground. Said Demi Runas, in her second year on the tour: “It would be incredible if there was a women’s Masters. We all compete hard, week in and week out, and I think those women at the top of our sport deserve an event that honours that level of dedication.”
Currently, the LPGA has five majors: the ANA Inspiration, the US Open, the Ricoh British Open, the Women’s PGA Championship and the Evian Championship.
Of the five, the ANA has the most tradition: the caddies also wear white jumpsuits, there’s a woman who passes out over 1,000 handmade ribbon flowers each year to players and spectators, and the winner customarily jumps into Poppie’s Pond just off the 18th green.
Sydnee Muncrief, an LPGA veteran, said of the ANA: “It’s such a special event and place with such rich history for the LPGA and women’s golf. The whole vibe of the week including the star studded Pro-Am is just different in the best way. No other men’s event champ gets to jump in Poppie’s Pond . . . So in my mind, that is our Masters and I think we should be really proud of that.”
But despite the ANA’s best intentions, the LPGA has struggled cultivate the type of tradition in its major events that is the Masters’ stock in trade.
Of course, tradition cannot be exactly replicated, and nor should it. However, should Augusta National decide to host a women’s Masters in the future, there is a worry that it would somehow devalue or detract from the tradition of the men’s tournament. That fear, advocates insist, is unfounded.
“Does the women’s US Open take away from the men’s US Open?” Muncrief said. “The answer is definitely no.”
One need only look at the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst, when the women played the same course as the men before the men’s tournament. Runas believes that is proof enough that a women’s event played in close proximity to the men’s could work.
“The tradition for the men is so deep-seated [at the Masters] that I don’t believe having a women’s tournament there would take away from the men’s Masters at all,” Runas said.
When Paula Creamer was asked to respond to Billy Payne’s comments about only being able to host one tournament a year, she replied: “They’ve only got one tournament a year. I understand that a lot goes into it, that one week and planning. The golf course is shut down. But I think it can handle two weeks at a time, whether it’s a week apart or back to back.”
Members of Augusta National only play there a handful of times a year, with most of the millionaires and billionaires on their rolls playing far more frequently at courses in the cities where they live. The member season is short due to the Masters, but introduction of a women’s event wouldn’t shorten it in any significant way.
So let’s be honest about the real reasons the board at Augusta National will not even consider a women’s tournament: they don’t think women belong.
In fact, Augusta National did not invite women to become members of their club until 2012, after 78 years of all-male members. Since then, only three women have joined the ranks of 300 or so members.
Augusta knows that it would not be the politically correct thing to say, “We just don’t want women playing a tournament at our golf course.” So they say nothing.
During my just under four years playing on the tour professionally, I never thought about what a women’s Masters would look like simply because I never even entertained the idea of it as a possibility.
However, with a little thought, here is how a women’s tournament at Augusta would go down:
1. The best female players in the world would be invited.
2. There would be a par-three tournament.
3. There would swiss cheese sandwiches instead of pimento – (a personal preference).
4. The caddies would wear white jumpsuits with cool green piping.
5. Amen Corner would remain Amen Corner.
6. The pink azaleas would remain pink.
7. The golfer with the lowest score would win the tournament.
8. The green jacket would actually fit the winner, and not be a ghastly two sizes larger than the person sporting it.
9. And the biggest difference and least significant difference? The winner would be a woman.
Should Augusta decide that it wants to show that its aim is to grow the game, as Payne once said, it will need to be able to look outside of the scope of a men’s tournament. There would be nothing greater for women’s golf than to play an event at what is one of the most famous golf courses in the world. That it would involve winning the support of a place that’s been seen as a cornerstone of sexism would only make it more satisfying – and evidence of a tide that will need to change in order to get more women playing the game.