BA on Assignment

April 12, 2012

Augusta National Golf Club

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Written for: Communicado Magazine
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I wanted to take a minute to talk about what’s going on at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. In case you don’t know the details, here are the facts:

Augusta National Golf Club hosts The Masters Golf Tournament. To some, it’s the premier golf tournament in the world. It’s the one that gives out the green jackets to the winners. It’s also a club that doesn’t allow women as members and only allowed members of color as of 1990. Until 1983, all caddies had to be black. With that change, the club also decided that women could be caddies.

This is a tough one…

It’s really hard to defend a club that as recently as 1990 still embraced bias, bigotry and racism. In reasonable circles, none of those stations are effective or impressive. But, there is one thing that, even the court of public opinion can’t deny. AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB IS PRIVATE! It’s a private organization funded and run by private interests. As wrong as it seems, they can do whatever they want with their club.

And from a public relations perspective, I’m going to defend their position with regard to the most recent scandal – IBM’s automatic induction of their CEO to the club. Here’s the flap…

Membership to this private club is by invitation only. Individuals can’t apply; Male, female, black, white – whatever. No application process. So the board, leadership and membership can decide NOT to extend an invitation if they so choose. In January, 2012, Virginia Rometty succeeded Sam Palmisano as CEO of IBM. Uh Oh, what’s Augusta supposed to do now? What to do, what to do…

Augusta did not offer her an invitation to join and said to the press that all membership decision are decided privately. Good for them. Again, I’m defending their right to be a private organization – not to be biased or bigoted or racist. Ms. Rometty – to my knowledge – has made no comment with regard to this matter.

Likewise, IBM can decide not to be a major sponsor of The Masters. But, they won’t do that because they’d lose too much money. IBM can invite her to participate in the event without giving her membership. That would work. I think the business case for this wins at IBM. Besides, if Ms. Rometty is like me, she wouldn’t want to be a member of such an antiquated club and so the issue would be moot. No ground-breaking necessary. She’s already the CEO of IBM – Isn’t that already bigger than golf? It’s just golf…

I struggled with whether this post belonged in the corporate category or diversity. It really belongs in both. In addition to the diversity issue, there are so few situations where a private citizen or organization stands their ground and handles the media intrusion with strong clarity. Private persons and organization should have the right to make private decision period. Augusta National Golf Club did that. We have to accept that. But to be clear, they get an A+ for corporate media relations and a great big F for diversity.

I’ve said this about actors and athletes for years. You owe us nothing with regard to your personal lives. But, they still seem to want to offer explanations for their personal missteps. Tiger Woods should have said, “My private life is private… As long as I’m not having sex with these girls on a golf course while I’m playing, its none of your business.”

The only people who don’t qualify under my private life is private rule would be elected officials of any kind working in the public sector. If you want me to vote for you, I want to know that you’re not a child molester or into kiddie porn. If you’re having sex at home with your spouse, that’s your business. If you’re having sex in your office with the intern, that’s my business…

As an example, I think a fair question from a reporter to an elected official is: “Are you having sex with anyone other than your spouse.” I’d draw the line at inquires about the sex they’re having with their spouse, but, a private person shouldn’t even answer questions about their extramarital affairs.

As a media trainer, I always reminded my subjects that, anything they do in their official capacity for the company is up for discussion. They should be prepared to answer for anything and everything they do in their official capacity. The Accountants better be able to tell us where every dime is and where every dime went and the Lawyers better be able to assure us that we’ve broken no laws.

And when they’re off duty, they’re off the hook…

I have a cousin who lives in Georgia and she says ignorance is alive and well. I recall that from my last few visits there. And for as much as I would like to see diversity reign supreme across the land… I can’t beef with Augusta over this one.

But, it’ll be interesting to see if anything changes as a result of this. FYI – Women’s groups have been crying foul since 2002 if that gives you any indication of movement. My bet – Ms. Rometty will get invited to every Augusta event, but, she won’t get invited to join. She may even get a prominent role in The Masters. I’m just saying as a PR specialist, I know what I’d recommend. What would you recommend?