Race, Sex, Class & Tiger Woods

by | Aug 5, 2002

The ancient Scottish game has expanded in popularity steadily since the simultaneous rise of Arnold Palmer and television coverage of the PGA Tour in the 1950s; in recent years the game has seen increased participation at all professional and amateur levels, and much of the more recent upswing has been attributed to one man: Tiger […]

The ancient Scottish game has expanded in popularity steadily since the simultaneous rise of Arnold Palmer and television coverage of the PGA Tour in the 1950s; in recent years the game has seen increased participation at all professional and amateur levels, and much of the more recent upswing has been attributed to one man: Tiger Woods.

Woods’ dominance of the professional game and the four “Grand Slam” events are a perfect expression of golf’s capitalist undertones. The game is one of individual effort and responsibility, and to succeed professionally, one must earn their keep at every tournament and persistently improve their game just to remain competitive, to say nothing of dominate. Woods, in particular, has done what all great capitalists do: set a goal that reflects his personal values, and do everything within the confines of his profession (the Rules of Golf) to accomplish this goal. Quite simply, Woods wants to win at least 19 professional majors, one more than the great Jack Nicklaus. That is the goal which drives Woods and that is the framework that allows him to achieve and succeed.

That should be enough for most people to understand. Woods plays golf for his ends, not those imposed upon him by others. But that doesn’t stop others from trying nevertheless. Certain factions within the sports media, it seems, are always looking for a way to denigrate Woods’ accomplishments by demanding some form of sacrifice from him, be it intellectual or physical. A case in point this past week was a question first posed to Woods by Leonard Shapiro, a veteran reporter for that altruist mouthpiece, The Washington Post. Shapiro demanded–and demanded would be an appropriate description–that Woods join a growing chorus (largely consisting of media) of people condemning both Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrew’s for holding their respective tournaments (the Masters and the Open Championship, two of the four majors) at clubs that do not have any female members. Shapiro asked Woods for his view on the topic, but in reality it was a pure setup: there was only one answer acceptable to Shapiro, and that was for full capitulation to his position by Woods.

Woods refused the demand, saying that while he personally thought there should be women members of the clubs, it was not his position to dictate how private organizations should handle their membership policies. This was spun as a non-answer by Shapiro and other reporters, who falsely said Woods “evaded” the question. He did no such thing. He provided an exact position, just not the one the media cabal demanded of him.

Such is the conflict between an individualist like Woods and a collective like the media. Woods is the face of golf, a fairly republican (small “r”) entity. Golf is governed by a simple setoff objective rules that allow all who play to understand what is expected of them. Each player competes against himself, but can also compete against other players, even those of differing experience (via the handicap system). The sport is flexible to both a corporate outing, a weekend vacation, or a major professional tournament with a $1 million paycheck. Woods, like many top professionals, has the luxury of dictating his own schedule, and is essentially an independent contractor of the PGA Tour. Unlike the more socialistic constructs of team sports, such as baseball, Woods and his Tour brethren are free to act in their own self-interest without regard for the sacrificial agendas of other entities.

The media, by contrast, is a more democratic entity. It is often governed by the law of the mob, where stories and issues can be fabricated at will and magnified through an echo chamber of imitation. In such an environment, it’s not surprising that agendas are often driven more by rampant emotionalism than by reason or logic.

The issue of women at Augusta National has been driven for years by a small cabal of media reporters, notably Christine Brennan of USA Today (and a former colleague of Shapiro’s at the Post). A few months ago, Brennan appeared on a sports talk program on WTEM-AM in Washington. The co-host, Steve Czaban, posed the following hypothetical to Brennan: If you Augusta National would agree to do one of the following two things, which would you rather they do–(1) admit one female member; or (2) conduct an annual tournament for women golfers at the course. Brennan replied that, while she’d ideally love to see both, she would take the former option, admitting one female member, essentially a token gesture. Her reasoning, if you can call it that, was that the sight of a female member clad in the traditional green jacket would provide a powerful symbol to young women that would inspire them.

This is not only an absurd reply, but it makes one question whether Brennan is even capable of rational thought. Her answer was driven by pure emotionalism, not by reason, or even by a desire to promote and further women’s golf. The issue for Brennan–and her fellow Title IX alcoholics–is control. What drives them nuts is not the lack of respect or attention for women’s golf, but the fact that there are still places that cling to the notion that private clubs are, well, private clubs, not answerable to people who aren’t members.

A female member at Augusta would be purely symbolic to the outside world, but it would be a proud trophy of conquest for Brennan and her mob, who would see it as a sign of yielding to their omnipotent social pressure. After all, might makes right. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. Brennan has also been an enthusiastic supporter of gymnastics and figure skating–“sports” which degrade the individual like no other, by robbing children of control over their bodies, subjecting them to the authoritarian regiments of maniacal parents and military-like coaches. Golf, of course, can be quite regimented as well, but even Woods can still play for fun; you rarely see retired Olympic gymnasts playing around on the pommel horse for leisure.

Augusta National is not just attacked for its membership policies, but for the way it conducts the Masters itself. The so-called “Lords of Augusta” place a premium on control of their tournament, rather than simply on maximizing profit. Now on first blush, that may not sound like an ideal application of capitalism. But in fact, the Masters is a shining example of capitalism, precisely because it emphasizes its quality over quantity. Augusta chooses to emphasize the elite nature of their tournament and the experience of patrons attending the course over the more commonplace goals of sports marketing, namely the television audience. Masters officials charge significantly less for tickets and concessions than do most PGA Tour events, while simultaneously maintaining a tight leash over the conduct of CBS Sports broadcasters. That, in particular, has always rankled media members, who often cry of “censorship” at the hands of the Lords of Augusta. But such private control over property is not only permissible, but a key element of true laissez-faire capitalism: Augusta’s position is that if you don’t like how we want you to broadcast our tournament, we’ll find somebody else who will. Nobody is forcing CBS to stick around.

Tiger Woods is a three-time Masters champion, and he will undoubtedly return to Augusta National in 2003 to try and win his third consecutive tournament. It is unfathomable to think he would boycott the tournament if Augusta has not admitted a female member by then, which they will almost certainly not do. Come next April, we will have to wade through this entire issue again, as the media mobocracy will demand redress from Woods of Augusta’s alleged grievances. But ultimately the issue is irrelevant. Yes, there are no female members of Augusta, but at the same time, 99.99% of the men in this country are not members either. A golf club, by definition, is exclusive. It is simply a mechanism to provide for efficient division of playing time on a given course, which itself is a limited resource. Women are, in fact, allowed to play the course, and have often done so, but as guests of members.

A final note: Shapiro suggested Woods had an obligation to demand female integration because, as Shapiro puts it, their exclusion is no different than those clubs that have excluded blacks in the past (Woods is half-black). On one level, this point is well taken. But to equate Augusta’s policy with segregation, as Shapiro went on to conclude, would not be accurate. Segregation was a legal act of force implemented by the state. People often forget that the landmark segregation case of Plessy v. Ferguson involved private rail road companies opposing segregation, on the grounds that it was bad for profits to require “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks, when there was no particular reason to separate them in the first place. Woods, I suspect, does understand the difference between government-mandated racism and exclusionary membership policies by a private association. If the State of Georgia were prohibiting women from playing at Augusta, I have little doubt Woods would have something quite profound to say on that topic.

Not that Woods should have to say anything here either. But because of his skin color, the media assigns him obligations that other top golfers would never receive. Even other “colored”players, such as Fiji’s Vijay Singh (himself a Masters champion) never get the kind of treatment on these “social” questions that Woods does. This actually reflects one of the permanent themes of the media democracy–minorities must express only approved collective thought. We see this theme play out every time a non-leftist black or Hispanic is promoted for high political office, such as Clarence Thomas or Linda Chavez.

Of course, I could be wrong. Ernie Els, a white South African who won this year’s Open Championship, may indeed be facing questions soon about membership policies at Augusta. But more likely, reporters will take one look at his skin color and move the herd over to Hazeltine National Country Club in Minnesota, the site of the year’s final major (the PGA Championship) to await Tiger Woods so the lynching can begin anew.

Incidentally, has anyone checked out Hazeltine’s membership policies? I hear they exclude non-humans from membership. The animal rights people are going to be upset…

S. M. Oliva is president of Citizens for Voluntary Trade and a senior fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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