April 9, 2003
BILLY PAYNE: Welcome, once again, ladies and gentlemen, to the 2003 Masters. And thank you for coming. I'm delighted to be joined by Mr. Will Nicholson, the chairman of our competition committees and by the club chairman, Mr. Hootie Johnson. Mr. Chairman.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Thank you, Billy. Before I take your questions I would like to read a statement. Over the last 10 months everything that could possibly be said on the subject of Augusta National and its membership, everything that could be said, has been said. We are a -- the fact is we are a private club. A group getting together periodically for camaraderie, just as thousands of clubs and organizations do all over America. Just because we host a golf tournament, because some of our members are well known, should not cause us to be viewed differently. I have also stated that there may well come a time when we include women as members of our club, and that remains true. However, I want to emphasize that we have no timetable and our membership is very comfortable with our present status.
Now going forward, our club will continue to make its own decisions. And we will continue to make what hopefully is a major contribution to the game of golf and to charity.
Now I look forward to your questions about The Masters tournament, and golf in general. However, as I said earlier, I will have nothing further to add about our membership or related issues.
Now, Billy, I'm ready for the first question.
BILLY PAYNE: Yes, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, questions, please.
Q. Mr. Johnson with all due respect to your comment, I'm curious if you're comfortable with this environment for your tournament; i.e., all of the attention, all of the questions, all of the controversy that's surrounding it. Does that make you comfortable that your tournament is being treated in the way that you would hope it be would be treated. Thank you.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I think we'll present a great tournament, Christine. And I don't think that this issue is going to be a major issue. It's not a major issue. We have been talking about it for 10 months and I've made my statement.
Q. Is there any consideration to lift, clean, and place for the tournament?
BILLY PAYNE: Thank you.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well now we know why we are here.
WILL NICHOLSON: I never thought that question would possibly come up. We're going to play the ball down.
Q. Mr. Johnson, many of us have not had a chance to question you about this issue. If you're comfortable and you feel, in your standing in the right position on this issue, why won't you take any questions from us?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Because I -- we have talked about this for 10 months, as I said.
Q. You've only given --
HOOTIE JOHNSON: What question do you have?
Q. We have lots of question.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Is the question that I won't answer a question? I mean, go ahead. What is your question?
Q. I mean we have lots --
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, what is your question?
Q. Just people in this room have lots of questions and you're coming in here saying that you're not going to take any questions on this issue. We have talked about this for 10 months. You have not talked about this for 10 months.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I've made my statement. We are here to have The Masters tournament. I just told you if you have a question, I'll answer it, but don't lecture to me.
Q. Mr. Johnson, does the Augusta National intend to take any responsibility for the loss revenue from local businesses as a direct result of this controversy? Martha Burk has said, Don't blame me, blame Augusta National.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I think the city of Augusta has done very well with The Masters tournament for a long, long time. And I think they support us in the convictions that we have. About being a private club. So I, the Augusta -- the city of Augusta, the people of Augusta, are totally behind us.
Q. Do you think you'll have television sponsors next year?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: We haven't really pursued that, but I think there's a good chance that we will.
Q. Did your career as a blocking back prepare you for such a controversy such as this?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I don't think it -- I have experienced I don't think I have experienced anything quite like this assault.
Q. I've noticed that at least four businesses up and down Washington Road that are selling pro-Hootie merchandise and at least two businesses that have had some sort of sign either saying pro Hootie or Martha go home. Have you seen those? And if so, what do they do for you?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I passed by that coming in. I believe that we have a policy that anything like that, the shirts or hats or whether it's Hootie or anything else, I think that we either ask the patron to cover them up or to remove them, and check them.
Q. When you yourself see somebody outside the gates or a business outside the gates make some sort of a statement, does that have an effect on you at all?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: On me personally?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, we all like to be supported.
Q. If a female member is not added between now and next year's Masters, would you imagine that this issue will be where it is right now again next year or will it have gone away to some extent?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I really can't speculate on that. I really don't know. But that doesn't change our thinking.
Q. What suggestions shall we say have you all made to CBS about how their sports team should address this issue this week? Can we expect them to say anything about it on the air?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I really don't know what their decision would be. We hired them to present the golf tournament. And CBS news, I expect, would present whatever news there is, but we haven't had any discussions or made any demands, so to speak.
Q. Are we free to infer that they're free to talk about it on the air during the tournament?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: That will be their call.
Q. You often cite Clifford Roberts as your inspiration for running the tournament. Have you drawn on any conversations you've had with him when he was alive or readings that you've done from his writings on how to handle the situation that has come upon you in the last 10 months? And as a follow-up, are you concerned at all that the tournament that he wanted to be the best in the country has at all been impugned or maligned by what's happened?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, it's been maligned. But I don't think it's been damaged. And I think that The Masters will continue to be one of the great sporting events of the world, next year and the year after and the year after and the year after.
Q. And the stuff about Mr. Roberts?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I'm sorry?
Q. Any conversations that you had with Mr. Roberts?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: No, I haven't had any conversations with him lately.
Q. Given the furor that's ensued, if you had a chance to do this thing all over again, and respond to Martha Burk's letter, would you do it the same way?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: You know, really, we have, I'm not going to rehash this thing for 10 months. I mean if I had something to do over again or somebody else did something else, we are here and we're presenting the Masters Tournament. I've made my statement. You understand that, I believe.
Q. I was going to ask that. I know Martha Burk has said that there are some wordings she might have done a little differently. What I was wondering is if you would have worded anything differently?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I'm not going to address anything that I said or did, or she said or did, or anything about this issue. I'm not going to do it.
Q. I was just wondering, with the elimination of the sponsorship money, if you see that having a negative affect on the payout to charities?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, it does have a negative affect. But specifically, other than my saying that, what does that mean? What is your question?
Q. I guess if the dollar figure will be lower in terms of what the charities can expect from what you guys have traditionally donated.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Oh, on charity, no, that won't affect our charitable giving.
Q. I don't know if this will give it a more historical perspective but nobody has a perspective of the sweep of the Masters, the history of the Masters, when you look out a long number of years, 20 years from now, do you think Augusta will have women members then and do you have any views in the long term whether it should or not?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I really can't speculate on what might happen 20 years out. I'm sorry.
Q. Could you elaborate on the decision to rescind the age limit policy?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Yes, I could. I've been looking for that question, as opposed to the women issue.
(Laughter.) I guess you might say that I overfixed our problem. And we did have a problem, the tournament had a problem. And I overfixed it. And Jack Nicklaus, and -- well, first Arnold, wrote me a letter and expressed his displeasure and discomfort, and a few days later I got a letter from Jack expressing similar sentiments. And I asked the two of them to come to Augusta and visit with me. And they did. And I told them that I thought I had a solution.
I told them that it was my belief that Mr. Roberts and Bobby Jones, that their belief about the lifetime exemption was for a champion who believed that he would be competitive and would play 36 holes to try to make the cut. And that I believed that that was their spirit -- that that was the spirit and intent of the lifetime exemption. And they were in agreement with that. And I think that was essentially what was in the press release that went out to you folks.
And I also talked to Raymond Floyd, and I also talked to Tom Watson and I also talked to Byron Nelson on this same issue. And they all seemed to be in agreement with that philosophy. And with that, we rescinded the new qualifications that was to go into effect in 2004. I hope that answers your question.
Q. Speaking of Jack and Arnold, has either of those gentlemen expressed any opinion regarding the woman issue at Augusta? And does the opinion of any of your past champions and honorary members regard --
HOOTIE JOHNSON: That's two questions. Let me answer the first one. The first one is that I don't discuss membership matters. And they are members. Now, the second part of the question?
Q. The second part, was, does the opinion of any of your honorary members and past champions come into play at all in terms of what you may do in the future here with women membership?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: No. Are you speaking about past champions?
Q. Past champions. Their public opinion on whether -- for example, Tiger's on record as saying that he believes that there should be women members here.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well --
Q. Does that have any influence on you at all?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I won't tell Tiger how to play golf if he doesn't tell us how to run our private club.
Q. Given your career in sports and business and politics you certainly have lengthy and extensive experience with the media. In your mind, why is this controversy had the legs it has had? You've been dealing with the media for 50 years.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I don't know. I think you all could answer that question much better than I.
Q. From your perspective.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I really don't have an opinion on that.
Q. Can you speak about the champions dinner last night and without Sam Snead's presence, and are there any plans to possibly honor him here with either some sort of ceremony tomorrow or any kind of monument?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: On number one, I really don't comment on the champions dinner since I'm a guest there. But we will seriously miss Sam Snead here at the Masters. He loved this tournament and was a three-time winner. And he was a great contributor to our heritage. And we will miss him.
Q. Would you speak, sir, to the condition of the golf course after all the rain and your plans for what will happen if we have even more as forecasted.
WILL NICHOLSON: As you've seen, undoubtedly seen, the golf course has taken just about as much water as it can take. We're in the process -- we have mowed the greens. Double cut all of the greens. Every day. Continued to. We have made arrangements and have hired in the local community 31 hand-pushed mowers and we'll mow the landing areas on the fairways so they're fair for the players. We may not be able to get mechanical equipment on the fairways or in the second cut, but we'll have it so it's fair in the fairways, it will be closely mown for the players.
We have redone the bunkers since Sunday three times and we're in the process of redoing them again today. And I think they will be in the condition we want.
Q. Could you speak, sir, to the parking situation? Will that be resolved due to the -- will you be able to handle that in the event of more severe weather?
WILL NICHOLSON: I worry about everything that's on the golf course. That's out of my realm.
Q. How long can the Masters produce the tournament without television sponsors, do you think?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Indefinitely.
Q. Because of the softness of the golf course, is there any consideration to maybe moving the tees up 10, 20 yards?
WILL NICHOLSON: David, right now our plan is to use the back third of all the tees, with the exceptions of the three pars. As you know, we play the three pars from varying lengths, try to. But right now we plan to use the back third of the tees on the holes.
Q. What you usually do?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Yeah.
WILL NICHOLSON: Yeah.
Q. How important is it for you to have honorary starters here at this tournament, and when do you foresee that happening again?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, the honorary starters have been very important to the tournament off and on. We don't have them this year. Most of you probably know that I have talked with Arnold about being an honorary starter. And he has said that he would be honored to be one at the appropriate time. He still feels that he's playing enough active golf, tournament golf, that he doesn't want to do that now. But I am hopeful that we will have him some time in the future. And we're going to wait on him.
Q. Do you consider this a public event, the tournament? One of the notions that is out there is that even though this is a private club, that this has become such a major event in America that that's one of the reasons that this issue has legs the way it has.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I guess we simply disagree with some folks on that. Just because we present a world-class sporting event one week a year doesn't affect our private-club status.
Q. Are you concerned or disturbed at all by the fact that your legacy here at Augusta National might be tied to the issue of the past 10 months?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: The issue of what?
Q. The issue of the past 10 months. Are you disturbed that your legacy will be tied to this, your name will be tied to it?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: No, I'm sure that I'm certainly not disturbed by that.
Q. Another golf tournament has extended an invitation to a woman to play this year. In the future, would it ever be possible that the Masters could extend an invitation to a woman to play?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: If we have one to qualify, we'll sure send an invitation. And that could happen. I guess the Public Links.
WILL NICHOLSON: That could happen.
Q. Do you plan to remain indefinitely as chairman of Augusta National?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: You're not going to get rid of me any time soon.
Q. Your record in the past in South Carolina as supporting a lot of progressive causes, are you concerned that to the general public when they hear your name it's associated with this particular issue considering all the support you've given to other issues in your political life and your business life?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, historically I have -- I do have a reputation for fighting against discrimination. And I have a good record and I'm proud of it. But our private club does not discriminate. Single gender is an important fabric on the American seen. There are thousands and thousands all across America. Both genders. Health clubs, sewing circles, Junior League, Shriner's, and we should not and we're not discriminating. And we resent it very much when that accusation is made against us.
Q. Considering that thoughtful response, I'm wondering if you set this whole issue against a wider background reaching back in history and forward in time, perhaps, in larger American life of a group of people, women, who have fought for, for example, equal pay for equal work, who only got the vote in 1920, can you see -- and considering the influence of Augusta National golf club and the place it holds in the sporting scene, can you see how this might become or has become a flash point for women who are concerned about these very important matters and why despite the fact that this is a private club, it has broadened out so much?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I don't think that it's a flash point with a majority of American women.
Q. With that in mind, do you believe Martha Burk represents all of the women she claims to represent?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: I couldn't make a guess on that.
Q. The tournament will be seen again around the world this year on armed forces television, I wonder if you have anything to say to the men and women of the military who are fighting overseas and will be watching this this weekend?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, we're pulling for them. We're proud of them. That's it.
Q. I was wondering what your daughter's have said to you about this issue?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: What my daughters say? Well, I think I relayed this story to John a couple of weeks ago. I have four daughters. And the other day my wife had a birthday. And we have this lake place, and my wife and the four daughters wanted to go to the lake place to celebrate her birthday. And they let me know that they really didn't want me to come along with them.
(Laughter.) And they didn't want their husbands to come along. We congregate there all the time, but they were going to do their thing. It's just a natural thing. And I don't know how to articulate that or how to explain it. But it's just been going on for centuries and centuries that men like to get together with men every now and then and women like to get together with women every now and then. And that's just a simple fact of life in America?
Q. I wondered if you could address why you think that this tournament has been so difficult to put together a winning streak such as Tiger's trying for. There are many more instances in other Majors of two in a row, three in a row, four in a row. Why do you think there's only been two men or three men who run it two in a row and why it's been so difficult to put together streaks on a yearly basis here.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Boy, that's a tough one. I really honestly don't know how to answer that. I really don't.
Q. Do you think it's possibly -- Tiger mentioned that the yearly severity of the greens is what sets this tournament apart from the other Majors. Do you agree with that?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: That's, yeah. With most tournaments, though, the guy with the hot putter, it's a big leg up. I'm sorry, I can't do better.
Q. There's been a resolution introduced in Congress regarding Congress asking that any members of federal government from the Congress to the federal bureaucracies, the ambassadors ranks, not be allowed to join the ranks of private clubs, but that, that do not allow both genders. I wonder if you have any comment on that and do you think that has a chance of passing?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, that's what I was going to ask you? Has it passed?
Q. It was just introduced last week.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, you know anybody, any two people or any one person can introduce something. We'll have to wait and see what happens to the resolution before I would have a comment on that.
BILLY PAYNE: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Dave?
Q. The issue of your tenure here, shall we say?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Oh, that's -- good.
Q. Is that your decision to step down or is there a board that could ask you to step down or do you stay as chairman as long as you wish to be?
HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, that's a membership matter. And -- (Laughter.)
I do want to make one point, though. If I drop dead, right now, our position will not change on this issue. It's not my issue alone. And I promise you what I'm saying is, if I drop dead this second, our position will not change.
BILLY PAYNE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
End of FastScripts....