Thomas Beller’s new book is a collection of essays titled, "How To Be a Man."
"Those who live out here are very likely living in the cultural shadow of golf. It’s not so much the game of golf that influences manners and morals; it’s the Zenlike golf ideal."
— "Our Sprawling, Supersize Utopia" by David Brooks, NY Times Magazine, 2004
"What conceivably makes this funnier (to some) is the nature of the game itself. Golf. That anal round of scrupulous caution and petty griefs. Watching those golfers being masacred, to trills and other ornaments, seems to strike those in the paino bar, at any rate, as an occasion for sardonic delight.
"Bodies are blown back into sand and high grass. If it’s all a little like cowboys and Indians, so much the better. One of the golfers tries to escape in his cart, steering it towards the woods. The young woman with the machete sets out in pursuit, arms pumping in slow motion, hair sailing out."
— "Players," A novel by Don Delillo, 1977
April, 2003, Augusta, Georgia–
The really sweet girl on the phone, the one whose boyfriend owned all those pit bulls, was helping me navigate towards my AmeriSuites Hotel, where she was manning the front desk. I could tell from her perky singsong voice that this was a big night. The Golfers were arriving in droves. We all wanted service and flirtation. Her name was Sally. “You’re at the stoplight? Well make a left, away from the Days Inn."
"OK!" I nearly shouted, so relieved to have some direction. "I made my left!"
"Keep your eye out for the Denny’s on your left!" she said.
For the previous two hours I had been in the private hum of nowhere between airport and destination. I had talked on my cell phone, enjoying the anywhere minutes, the anywhere feeling. I had watched dusk descend on the lush Georgia countryside, gunned the rented PT Cruiser, and let my palm rest on the cue ball gearshift as I thought about my subject, Martha Burk. She was due to make this same drive – from Atlanta to Augusta – in about twenty-four hours. The road was so straight and dark, how could she not feel she was heading towards her destiny?
In Augusta, I was surrounded by the bright signage common to almost every exit of every interstate in America: The Comfort Inn, the Motel 6, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. Only the big elevated sign for the Days Inn suggested the particularity of this place and time. It read, "Rooms Available! Ladies Welcome!"
Right away my heart started beating. I live in New York where the landscape is dense and particular. The density is a drug. So maybe part of what I was experiencing was withdrawal. But when I’m out in America and I see, for the first time, a Comfort Inn next to a Motel 6, or a Wendy’s next to a McDonald’s, I start sweating like someone who has come upon a giant hidden conspiracy. It’s ridiculous. I have a similar reaction to TV commercials when I haven’t watched TV in a while, especially commercials during sporting events.
"Do you see the Denny’s?" sang Sally, guiding me home.
"I see it! I see it!" I yelled. "Thank you Sally!"
My heart beat faster. Why does this sameness seem sinister? It’s because I’m a stranger here. I tend to arrive in America, proper, as though I’ve just landed on the moon. And I always feel as though I’m the first one here, though it’s completely obvious just by looking around that "here," is were most people live.
A golf course is nature in stiletto heels. It is nature in stage make-up, nature strapped down and held in place.
And at the same time the space feels boundless. To walk out onto a golf course, even a fairly unkempt, unspecial, unlegendary one, is to imbibe the freedom of an open space, a vista, a sense of unclutteredness, the feeling of simplicity and the earth’s bounty, even as one understands that it is a man made creation, highly vigilant towards the natural forces of decay. Upkeep is important in golf. A golf course is very high maintenance.
The golf course at the Augusta National Golf Club is as kempt as they come. It is host to the world’s most high profile golf tournament, the Masters. Therefore one could venture that it is the most famous golf course in the world. The club was founded in 1930, the tournament started two years later, and the tradition, and the regard for that tradition, has been accumulating ever since.
Recently, on the eve of my first visit, someone well acquainted with Augusta National tried to help me understand the important role of tradition at the club. There was a tension in his voice, because the very act of explaining the tradition, of publicizing it, essentially, was the opposite of what that tradition stood for, which was the tacit understanding that excellence would always be the priority, including the excellence involved in making nature, among other things, behave.
His explanation was swimming against the current of his own reluctance, until he hit on the subject of the Pimento and Cheese Sandwich. This was the metaphor he was looking for, and his voice jumped a bit.
"Pimento and Cheese sandwiches," he said, "have been served more or less since the club’s founding.
"And you can get a Pimento and Cheese sandwich on the course for a buck fifty," he said. "Still."
We were both silently contemplated the meaning of this "still."
There was no price gouging at Augusta National. There was business, but it was ethical, based on supply and demand. Yes, business and golf have always had a close affinity, and Augusta National Golf Club was itself a very lucrative business, but The Masters was not about selling. It was not about ostentation. True, the members of the club were comprised largely of the very richest men in the country, but money was not the point. On the golf course at Augusta National there was simplicity, tradition, fineness, the bounty of open space and light, and unpretentious sandwiches. And, of course, golf.
My interest in the tradition of the Augusta National had been spurred by Martha Burk, who had set herself up as a reformer of that tradition, or one particular aspect of it: the fact that the club’s membership was all male.
She laid siege to the club in manner of the old medieval armies. She encamped outside the gates. As in the medieval era, the low level siege lasted ten months, and was a game of attrition. This would be the finale. If not the grand finale, the end of the first act.
I went down to Augusta to see someone stand outside the gates of a golf club and do the most sacrilegious thing one could do in that context, make noise. Inside the gates it would be golf, but outside it would be a kind of prizefight. I was going to witness a spectacle, but in the back of my mind, I knew my trip would not be complete until I had the opportunity to exchange a dollar fifty for a little bit of history in form of a Pimento and Cheese sandwich.
It all began one day in the summer of 2002 when Martha Burk sent a letter to the Augusta National Golf club. It is tempting to describe this letter, in hindsight, as the shot heard around the world, or at least the golf world. But this is not the case.
Burk sent her letter as the chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s organizations, an operation with two full time employees in a tiny office a block and half from the White House. The NCWO – an acronym that sinks, as soon as you hear it, into the swamp of Washington DC acronyms – is an umbrella group for numerous other women’s groups. These groups had not previously paid much attention to the subject of Golf. And Golf, it is safe to say, had not previously paid much attention to them.
The letter was inspired by a column in USA Today by the sports writer Christine Brennan, in which she wondered aloud when women would be admitted as members to the club that hosts the world’s most prestigious golf event, The Masters.
Women were welcome to watch the Masters, and could even golf at the club as guests, but they could not belong as equals.
Burk consulted with her board of directors, got their approval, and then sent a private letter to the club’s chairman asking the same question Brennan had asked in her column.
Burk’s letter, sent on June 12th, encouraged the club to admit a woman before the next Masters, in the spring of 2003.
Perhaps "encouraged," is an understatement. The only real weapon an organization like the NCWO has is the ability to shame, and the implication of Burk’s letter was clearly that the NCWO would do what it could on this front, if the club remained intransigent on the issue.
Augusta National is probably the most prestigious Golf Club in America, and may well be the most exclusive club of any kind. Its members include numerous CEO’s of the nations biggest companies, such as GE, Coke, Citigroup, and Motorola, to name just a few. Former secretary of State George Schulz, who sits on the board of Bechtel is a member, as was John Snow, the Treasury Secretary at the time, until just before his senate confirmation hearing, when he resigned.
But membership is about more than being able to afford the dues, which are about 40,000 dollars a year. It’s about something else, an intangible something which, whatever it is, Bill Gates didn’t have enough of, at least for a few years, until he finally got in this past year.
Augusta National is an exclusive club, but the mailman does, nevertheless, deliver to their door. If nothing else the following story can be seen as an illustration of the value of a stamp.
The shot heard around the world, or at least around the Golf world, was not Burk’s letter to the club. It was the club’s response to Burk’s letter.
Like Rudy Giuliani announcing his intention to get a divorce to the press before he announced it to his wife, Augusta National launched a preemptive media strike.
On July 9th, 2002, the club’s chairman, Hootie Johnson, released Burk’s letter to the press along with a three page press release of his own. It included the line, "We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated … at the point of a bayonet."
Rebecca Menzo is one of the two full time employees at the NCWO, and she recalls that day, a year later, as though it just happened. "At noon," she said, "Fedex arrived with their three page letter. Literally five minutes later the phone starts ringing. It was reporters. I had no idea what is going on. We just got this three-line letter. So then we got their press release faxed to us and we realized why the phone was going nuts. Martha just got on the phone and started handling it, she answered all the questions. The phone kept ringing."
It didn’t stop ringing for the next ten months.
"We couldn’t believe it," she said. "The press release seemed so hostile. It was not the reaction that we expected. At all."
Martha Burk had been active in feminist politics since the early eighties, when Barbara Erenrich remembers receiving weekly fax updates on women related issues being discussed on capital hill. Bring attention to women’s issues is the name of her game. Suddenly, she found herself riding a giant media wave. It went on and on, goaded by, among other things (such as Martha Burk’s press conferences) the immanent deadline of the Masters, 2003. No sooner would one wave die down than another would rise up. As a companion to these waves, there was the nearly constant refrain from both inside and outside golf-world: why is this happening?
One small but undeniably important reason for the uproar was Hootie Johnson’s name. In the pantheon on intrinsically amusing words, "Hootie" is up there with "pickle" and "knish."
"Hootie." It sat there on the pages of newspapers and magazines beaming mischievously, as though it had sneaked in from another era, which, in a sense, it had. "Hootie." It rolled off the tongues of newscasters, whose voice invariably leapt when they said it, as though they had hiccupped. "Hootie." Its sheer obstinacy was comic. It had a built in exclamation point. "Hootie." It was the linguistic equivalent of a rubber ducky that squeaks when you squeeze it. That it was the name of a powerful businessman who ran the country’s most elite golf club with an iron fist just added to the story’s allure. Hootie!
Contrast the atmosphere of "Hootie" to the more prudent, down to earth name of "Martha." It was a perfect, made for TV, Ying and Yang. Adversaries are often, in some way, mirrors for one another, but in an indication of the funhouse nature of this particular mirror, there was the surreal twist that Martha Burk, while growing up in Texas, was referred to affectionately by friends and family as… "Hootie." I kid you not.
On a darker note, there was the line, "We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated … at the point of a bayonet."
It was one of those phrases that, though put forth in defense of a fort, is its own linguistic Trojan horse.
For starters, the idea that a group of extremely powerful men were worried about being prodded by such a phallic item in the hands of a woman provided a kind of absurd comedy. Here was the spectacle of someone who prizes rectitude saying something unintentionally smutty. In this sense, it was a kind of public relations Freudian slip.
But there was a darker and more powerful subtext to the use of the word "Bayonet."
The bayonet was a weapon widely used in the Civil War. It’s not news that the South remains preoccupied by this episode, but it should be pointed out that the state of Georgia had, not long ago, a confederate cross as the dominant feature of its state flag. It had been replaced by another image, but the state was again embroiled in a controversy over the design of its flag, and there was a strong contingent who wanted the confederate imagery returned, or at the least for the matter to be put to the public in a referendum. The whole matter simmered alongside the Martha and Hootie show, shadowing it.
"At the point of a bayonet," made it sound like some Northerners were again going to march into Georgia and violate it, tell people what to do, and generally screw up a way of life that the locals thought fine to begin with. As it happens Augusta National was founded by an Atlanta based lawyer who was the most popular golfer of his day (and an amateur), Bobby Jones, and a stockbroker from New York named Clifford Robertson. It was from the start, if not a Northern institution, than a national one. The weight in Augusta National was on the second word. But the bayonet imagery erased all those nuances and made it a matter of pride.
The phrase, and the whole press release, was a gigantic public relations gaffe. Within a couple of months the controversy had escalated to the point where Johnson announced that it was releasing the tournament’s sponsors from their obligations. He didn’t want them to be smeared by a boycott or generally sullied by the unsavory fight he had on his hands. The Masters would run without commercials. It says something about the stakes of the fight, and the resources of the club, that the money they walked away from was about twenty million dollars.
Hootie was going to fight on behalf of his club. There was one high profile defection – Thomas Wyman, the former head of CBS, which broadcasts the Masters resigned, as did John Snow, the newly nominated treasury secretary who was about to go into his senate confirmation hearings – but on the whole the membership seemed to be behind him, or at least to not want to cross him. A way of life was being defended, was the message emanating from Augusta National.
But the real news was that the most powerful cooperate executives in the land were on such defensive footing to begin with. They were under siege. They were manning – so to speak – the fort. To say that they were willing to fight to the death is not an exaggeration. In his annual press conference on the eve of the Masters, Hootie Johnson stated, "If I die right now, the club’s position is not going to change." He was putting his life on the line in the face of this onslaught.
The club’s nemesis, the person provoking images of bayonets and dying on the field (or the green) of battle, was a well spoken sixty one year old grandmother from Texas named Martha Burk, who over the course of ten months had found herself in the unexpected position of being the most publicly visible feminist in the country.
It was snowing so hard they cancelled the shuttle from Washington, so Martha Burk took the train up for her appearance on the John Stewart show.
I met her at Penn Station. Specifically, I found the limo with a big "Martha Burk" sign in the window and got in, said hello to the driver, and commenced to stare at the door from which travelers were emerging, pulling their suitcases behind them. One by one they emerged into the sleet and snow and cold wetness. It was a storm, but nasty and grey, and I began wondering what sort of entourage Burk would be traveling in. The limo idled and as the minutes ticked by there began to be some question as to whether she would make it in time. One by one people emerged from the door of the train station, and their hair was immediately blown all over the place, their faces scrunched up against the wind. I thought, "which one is Martha Burk?"
I knew she was a 61-year-old grandmother. I knew that she had divorced and was now married to Ralph Estes, also a Washington based activist. He was her second husband. I had read a quote from one of her sons, who lives in Texas, saying, "I’m proud of what my mother does. We need people on the extreme left to counteract the people on the extreme right, so people like me can walk comfortably down the middle."
I hadn’t really thought of Burk as being on the extreme left of the political spectrum, but just a few days earlier the pitch of the whole controversy has escalated another notch when, several days into Operation Iraqi Freedom, Burk had held a press conference stating that women could be taken prisoner on the battle field but couldn’t be a member of Augusta. It was an echo of the Vietnam era argument that eighteen-year-old boys could die fighting for their country but couldn’t vote on their government, but the echo was faint (A year later, the echo between these two wars is less faint). In spite of this echo, or maybe because of it, every sports writer in America, it seemed, leapt to their feet in the spirit of a person who can only take so much, and declared their outrage. The consensus seemed to be that while she may have something of a point on the all male membership issue, now she had surely gone too far. To me, however, it was the first time the controversy seemed worth my attention.
As I sat there waiting I mulled over how every person involved in some attempt to change the status quo has to spend a fair amount of time establishing their non-freak credentials. Thus, if you are writing about fast food, it helps if you say you enjoy the occasional hamburger. Is Martha Burk a golfer? No, but she is a grandmother. And from Texas. While Texas is not exactly the South, proper (it’s in a category of its own, really) it is part of the land of sir and ma’am. Like every other faintly progressive political figure who has gotten anywhere on the national stage in the last thirty years, she could speak the language of change without sounding impertinent.
What would she look like?
I was looking for cell phones snapped open and people with clip boards. What I got, at last, was a woman with a plastic head cover tied tightly under her chin wearing a dark trench coat. No umbrella. Bright red lipstick. She stood in the gale clutching her purse. Then she spotted her name in the limo window and climbed in, untying the plastic head wrap. Her hair is dark, short, and cut neatly in a side part, with hints of grey around the edges.
"Welcome to New York," I said.
"Can you believe this snow?" she said. "In April!" And then her cell phone rang.
"This is Martha Burk," she said upon answering, her accent smoked with Texan bar-B-Q flavor, but level, business like, ready for anything. "Yes," she said after a moment, "but only very briefly."
She proceeded to outline her position for the BBC.
When she was done, we introduced ourselves, and then I asked the question that had been on my mind since I began following the whole Martha-Hootie show.
"Why," I began, "do you suppose Hootie Johnson…"
"Went ballistic?" she finished for me. "I have no idea. But it will go down in the annals of overreactions."
I ask about Tiger Woods, who was going to be attempting a record third straight victory at the Masters. The very existence of Tiger Woods is at once a rebuke to the notion of Golf as some backwards looking white man’s club, and a testimony to the fact that change often comes after someone has made a lot of noise. It was only twelve years ago that the Muscle Shoals Golf Club of Alabama backed down on its all white policy after quite a bit of noise making.
"I wish he were stronger," said Burk of Tiger Woods. "But I wish all the golfers were stronger. They have given us luke warm support. They are either timid or they are lacking in the conviction that I wish they had. People either have a gut feeling for social justice issues or they don’t. And they seem to not have that. Having said that, I would be delighted for very good lip service even if they didn’t feel it in their bones."
She takes another call. Days away from her scheduled protest at the Masters, Burk is involved in some serious Real Politick involving the issues of race and gender. Are they same? Are they not the same? More concretely, is she going to somehow convince Jessie Jackson, who has suddenly taken a strong interest in the whole affair, to not show up in Augusta and make it his show?
Her nails are painted red.
We pull up to the door of the Jon Stewart Show. Martha is swept into the Green room, where she was met by her assistant, Rebecca Menzo, as well a journalist from the New York Times, preparing a feature on Burk to follow up the two front page stories and numerous columns on the sports page.
Menzo is a young woman with black fingernails and a tight T-shirt. She is responsible for getting Burk, who had never heard of Stewart, onto the show. She’s wearing the big smile of someone who has thrown a party and can’t believe how many people have shown up. She’s also wearing a rather tight cotton top. Girl power
There was something a tiny bit fusty but also ferociously pragmatic to Martha Burk while we sat in the limo, the plastic head cover that lead me to believe she would regard this as a chore. The way she answered her phone with, "This is Martha Burk," as though there wasn’t a disagreement in the world that couldn’t be settled in a peaceful, rational manner.
But in the make-up chair she is all lightness and bemusement. "My nail polish looks terrible," she says and holds out her fingers. Then she sets about removing it herself. She had never heard of Jon Stewart, she confessed to me, "But my assistant Rebecca is very excited about this."
Stewart peeks into the room, bristling with pre-show excitement.
"You made it!" he says. "Thank God!" Then he launches into a riff about the terrible weather, which was somehow hilarious even as it was about nothing.
His suit is grey and tight, and he fits into it like a sausage. As he speaks his body performs that strange jerky movement common to all the talk show hosts; their comedic center of gravity is at the waist, and they stand as though their back has just gone out, or might at any moment. Stewart, who I saw rollerblading around Washington Square Park just a couple of years ago, seems to have acquired this middle aged tendency.
Martha sits in the make up chair, a plastic bib around her neck, and tells me in a tone of confidence that her hairdresser was very excited at the prospect of her being photographed for Vogue. On the wall next to her hands a huge black and white Helmut Newton photograph titled, "Fat hand with Money." It depicts a woman’s hand grabbing a sea of hundred dollar bills. The hand is fat, and she wears a gigantic diamond ring. The photograph is suffused in the irony of style, and it occurs to me that while Martha has humor, irony is not her métier. She is a creature of Washington DC. Irony is not commodity in Washington DC, where no matter how absurd things get, the commodity is always power, not attitude.
"We’ll just do a little bit," says the make-up artist.
"Well you’ve got years of experience," says Burk. "I’ll leave it to you."
A moment later and we are out in on set: the rock music is blasting, a producer is frantically waving his arms at the audience in the bleachers, exhorting them to cheer, and Martha, sporting a long stylish scarf over her black two piece suit, thumps down into the guest seat as thought she has arrived in the living room of an old friend.
Jon Stewart’s show has as its bread and butter a comic critique of the same mainstream television media that has spent so much time covering Martha’s crusade. Weather he will be sympathetic to Martha’s cause, or treat her as pawn in the mainstream media’s tendency to make everything as dumb as possible, is up in the air. It turns out that, like everyone else, he just wants to say the word "Hootie."
He leads off with a quip about why Martha would even want to be a member of a club like Augusta National. "They seem like such… dicks!" he says.
"And old one’s at that!" replies Martha and throws her head back with such gleeful laughter I hardly recognize her from the business like figure I’d watch field calls from the BBC, just half an hour earlier.
Stewart then has some fun with the name Hootie ("That’s crazy!" "Don’t mess with his petutie!" "What is he, six years old?") while Burk drops as many corporate names as she can. Stewart is not moved to outrage. When he his face registers no recognition at the name Jeffrey Imelt (CEO of General Electric) she says, almost exasperated, "You don’t see enough corporate stuff."
"I don’t see any corporate stuff," Stewart shoots back, and at this point one feels he is ready to stand up and shout, ‘I don’t even know why this is such a big deal!’
Instead he asks it sitting down.
"Because this is just about getting into a golf club, has it surprised you that this has taken on such national prominence? This seems like an issue that in real terms doesn’t bear the weight of your time."
"Well, we don’t always get to pick our battles," says Burk. "I wrote Hootie a private letter thinking this would be a small thing. We didn’t expect it to get this big. But you got to remember it’s Golf, it’s sports, it’s power, it’s men, it’s money, and all those things together make for a volatile mix."
And what happens to the volatility when you throw in some feminists who have come all the way from Washington and even New York standing around in Augusta, Georgia with placards protesting the biggest cash cow the town sees in a year?
The fact is a lot of crazies have come out of the woodwork in the ten months leading up to the Masters. It sends a tingle up my spine at the thought of them down in Augusta, waiting for Martha, hating her.
According to an article in Sports Illustrated meant as a Masters preview, Augusta is a hive of Martha haters. The article, which appeared almost concurrent to the invasion of Iraq, went so far as to say that Augusta residents didn’t have to worry about Saddam Hussein, they had their hands full with Martha Burk!
From that statement it’s only a few paragraphs before the reporter starts giddily quoting "The Heidi Fliess of Augusta" about all the hookers being brought into town to accommodate the golf fans.
I stare up at the TV monitor. There sits Martha, only a tiny trace of tension in her smile, which is for the most part ebullient. Getting to sit on national TV and recite the names of the corporations whose CEO’s who belong to Augusta National is clearly her idea of a good time. Part of me thinks that this shallow shaming cannot possibly be an effective tool for change. But then, Martha seems to believe in it.
I look down from the TV monitor and there sits the woman herself, beaming away as Stewart winds things up with, "If you do get in, see what you can do for the Jews."
TV reality verses the real time of human experience is, I suspect, going to be a theme of the next few days.
"They’ve got one!" Martha exclaims. "Sandi Weil of Citigroup!"
"One!" Says Stewart. "Oh boy. He’s a nice man. Helps with the sandwiches."
On my first night in Augusta, I attended a Golf dinner. There will be one to attend every night.
Tonight it’s the Golf Writer’s Association, Thursday the PGA Dinner, and Friday the USGA dinner.
The most salient detail about these dinners was the abundance of men in blue blazers, though there were also a few green ones, and one marvelously loud red one. I felt fortunate to have brought a blue blazer of my own and donned it like armor, or a costume.
This first dinner was a sit down affair for the Golf Writer’s Association. It ended with a lifetime achievement award man named Renton Laidlaw, a roly-poly shaped Scotsman who had been announcing Golf tournaments on television for nearly thirty years, mostly in Europe. He rambled on and on but I didn’t mind, he had that golf announcer’s sleep inducing lull which, in all honestly, has always been my favorite part of professional golf.
Of all the major sports you can see on TV, Golf is in some peculiar way the most intimate. Golf announcers speak as though they are standing above a loved one who is, at that moment, napping, and are trying to conduct a conversation without them waking up. Their speech is just a notch above a whisper. And what is a whisper? It is a confidence. It is a shared secret. It is an intimate moment. I used to love watching golf when I was a kid. And I wasn’t a golf playing kid. I just liked watching the sunshine dappled onto the smooth green grass, I liked squinting (and watching others squint) up into the blue sky to try and see the little white ball. I liked the sense of order and civility the permeated these events, and the idea that these guys wandering around amidst the palm trees, the placid pools of water, the pristine white sand traps, did not now nor never would have to do homework.
Most of all, I loved the voices of the announcers. So lulling, calm, friendly, and civilized. The rest of the universe disappeared, as one wants it to when watching sports, and narrowed to the scope of that little white cup into which those balls were directed. The announcer’s excitement, when they expressed any, was utterly contained.
Laidlaw’s was the last acceptance speech of the night, which was a good thing because it went on for over twenty minutes, with many fond recollections of his life as a member of the hard drinking, world traveling golf press ("red wine" was the most frequently recurring phrase in his speech).
Afterwards I approached him wanting to ask about his thoughts on Martha Burk, but he was surrounded by well-wishers mocking him for the length of his speech. It was too warm a moment, and I didn’t want to interrupt it with my dissonant topic. A woman was handing him her business card. She looked up at me, teetered a little, and introduced herself as Linda Hartogh, "the painter." She seemed to have a lot of diamonds scattered around on her, and was swaying a lot.
"You’re a painter?" I said.
Her expression was that of heroic patience. It seemed to say that if I didn’t recognize her name I must not know much about golf. She handed me a card. There, on the standard size business card was a lovely little painting of a pastoral landscape: a golf course, some trees, some water, and off to the side a lighthouse, in red and white. We chatted briefly about the tournament and I asked if this one would be any different.
"Well that crazies are all coming," she said and rolled her eyes. "They’re just… everywhere!"
At this point Renton Laidlaw was briefly unattended and I turned to him, wanting to see what the seasoned veteran might say about the crazies, but his face was so flush with pleasure and drink, he seemed like a such a kind man, so rolly polly, that I couldn’t bear to ruin the moment, so I shook his hand like a fan, and wished him the best.
Then I turned to two other men in blue blazers who were just standing there. One was swaying a little and making funny faces to no one in particular. The other had a big grey handle bar mustache and beamed out at the room with a big happy smile. I approached this cheerful figure with the handle bar mustache and a badge on his jacket indicating that he had was a graduate of Notre Dame’s class of 1953. His name was William Cooney, a lawyer, and a native of Augusta. He spoke with a pleasing drawl, and was very happy to share his memories of the Masters over the years.
"I remember when they would leave tickets out on the counter of the local bank," he said. "You’d just go down there and grab as many as your needed!"
I couldn’t bring myself to bring up the subject Martha Burk to him, either. Also, his remark about the ease of getting tickets in the old days reminded me of the unhappy fact that I did not have a ticket or press credential for the tournament. Applying for press credentials at Augusta requires paper work and foresight along the lines of what is required of applying for graduate school, and my relatively late request was politely rebuffed, and, after further entreaties, politely rebuffed, and finally, after further explanation, politely rebuffed.
I almost wanted to ask William Cooney if he could scare me up a ticket, but instead I turned to his swaying, companion, also in a blue blazer, but with no information about his alma matter visible, and introduced myself as a reporter.
His name was Jim, and had a sweet, bumbling countenance, perhaps from drink. He was William’s brother in law. He was a doctor, he told me, a dermatologist to be exact. And he was not from Augusta. The fact that he didn’t live in Augusta emboldened me.
"What do you think about Martha Burk?" I asked.
"Oh, she is way too radical," he said. "She wants to sterilize young men!"
"She does?" I said.
"Yes! So they wont get the women pregnant at that age, you know, when they’re teenagers. She wants to put an implant in them to sterilize them!"
William Cooney smiled warmly at me. I dutifully wrote this information down, and we all expressed delight in meeting one another and said good-bye.
That was my debut among the boys in the blue blazers.
On my way home I stopped at a 7/11 to stock up, and there saw Sally, the woman at the front desk, hop out of her a little white sports car in her tight white jeans and, with the bounce in her step of a person who just got off work, rush into the place.
"Hi Sally!" I said. It was slightly gross to use her name like that, as though we were friends, but she didn’t seem to mind.
"Hi!" she said back with a big smile. We chatted for a little while, and that is when she mentioned that her boyfriend had all these pit bulls.
Later that night I inspected the business card that Linda Hartogh had given me with its golf landscape. It was a very relaxing scene, I had to admit. A bit candy apple quaint, but serene and untroubled. I fell asleep thinking of that little business card and the small landscape. It was so still, so unruffled, as though pressed under glass. I imagined what it would like to live in that atmosphere, where the weather and the land and the clothes were all as pressed smooth and manageable as the whispery voices of those golf announcers on TV. It would be hell, I thought. Gold is hell. But the image of the little candy striped lighthouse lingered and the less awake I became, the more appealing it began to feel. My resistance to Golf and to sleep lowered in equal measure, until I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The city of Augusta, Georgia, has a faint whiff of the many layered mystery that envelopes its more well known neighbor to the North, Savannah. There are some attractively restored old buildings in the downtown neighborhood, but if there was ever a garden of good and evil here, it has most likely been replaced by a strip mall.
Looking at a map of the city, a peculiarity of design is immediately visible: there is something that looks like a giant park or nature preserve right in the middle of it. It’s size, in proportion to the rest of the city, is considerable — imagine something twice the size of Central Park in relation to Manhattan.
That nature preserve is the Augusta National Golf Club. It sits within the city, but it is not part of it. Lots of people in Augusta have set foot on it. Some sneaked in at night in the off-season. Some have access to badges (as the tickets to the masters are called). Some have played golf there as guests of members. And a few, such as William Morris III, the owner of the local paper, are members. But just a few.
Augusta National’s relationship to the its surroundings reminded me of a line from a Cornelius Eady poem: "I am a brick, in a house/ that is being built around your house."
Eady is an African American poet who was referring to a new world of poetry being built around an older, clubbier, and whiter world of poets. The new house would supercede the old house, looking out to the world, the new obscuring the old. But in Augusta the opposite seems to have occurred. The new house is the city itself, the strip malls, and its attention is directed to the forbidden garden in its midst, into which it peers lovingly, but rarely ventures.
The next day, Thursday, it rained, and therefore the club was a place no one ventured. They opened the gift shop, the only place in the world you can buy official Master’s products, but that was it. The tournament was cancelled. It was disappointing, but, I thought, at least I wasn’t the only one going without Pimento and cheese sandwiches. Washington Road, the main road running in front of the club, was filled with disappointed golf fans trundling along with signature Masters plastic bags filled with Masters merchandise.
There was a good deal of unofficial Merchandise being hawked on Washington Road, as well. Several booths had been set up, and T-shirts, golf balls, hats, stickers, and buttons were for sale. They came in two basic flavors: Anti-Martha. And Pro-Hootie.
Business was good, with "Go Hootie" buttons being the big mover. Martha Burk was well represented, on shirts, hats, and golf balls, always with a red slash across her face, but most of the people didn’t want to think about Martha, they wanted to exult in their stubborn benefactor.
I thought of Todd Manzi, who was further down the road, and who had, it seemed bet wrong. He was riding a wave of indignation about Martha, but he was the only one to have turned her into a fetish object. He was counting on her face – which he emblazoned on golf balls and t-shirts – to be a selling point. But disdain, dislike, even contempt is what these golf fans felt towards Martha. It didn’t seem they wanted her face on the bumper of their car, though.
In addition to the button sellers and the golf fans, there was another contingent roaming wet Washington Road: the journalists. Specifically, the journalists who had come down not to write about golf but to write about The Controversy. Almost all the major daily papers had a reporter on this beat. This controversy beat did not overlap with the golf tournament beat. Every major daily was allotted two press credentials, so this third wave of controversy reporters were outside the gates in both senses of the word, and over a short period of time, monitoring these reporters wandering with notepads, it became apparent that they were almost all women. A kind of Third Wave of women at the gates, reporting on women being kept outside the gates.
I pointed this out to a female reporter from one of the country’s biggest daily papers.
"I tried to explain to my sports editor that this was weird," she said. "And he is not a bad guy. But he just said the guys who always reported on the tournament should get the press credentials. He didn’t seem to see the irony of having the guys inside the club and the woman outside. He didn’t seem to get it, or just didn’t care "
One after the other the third wave ladies approached the button and T-shirt sellers for quotes and conversation.
A pair of guy’s selling stickers and shirts that read, "Nice Try Martha" had traveled from all the way from North Carolina; one guy was in something called "patient finance," which seemed to mean loaning people money for plastic surgery. He had come down with his dad. I watched Susan Reimer from the Baltimore Sun ask questions and jots notes in her pad. Reimer wore her blond hair in a kind of bowl cut, her wire rim glasses slid down her nose, and she had an easy, friendly laugh. I wondered if she was brandishing a dagger beneath her friendliness to these guys, but subsequent article was one of the more surprising and interesting pieces of Third Wave journalism – a genre of its own that trickled into the world in the days and weeks after the tournament – in which she stated that she had come to better appreciate what a male binding experience The Masters was, even if the father son bonding was being son over stickers mocking a woman they thought obnoxious.
The king of Martha haters was not on Washington Road. His name was Todd Manzi.
Unlike the other hawkers who had set up shop on Washington Road, at the club’s entrance, Manzi had arrived from his home in Tampa, Florida, and set up his tent on the official, which is to say legally mandated, protest site on a field a half a mile away from the club. This innocuous patch of land, sunk about eight feet below the road, had been the subject of extensive legal wrangling as the town passed last minute laws preventing a protest from taking place across from the club’s entrance. The ten person city council of Augusta split in their vote, five to five. All five of the council members who supported Burk’s right to protest were black. The five that wanted to restrict her were white. The white mayor broke the deadlock, and in spite of a series of last minute appeals, the protest was relegated to this meadow well out of shouting distance from the club.
Manzi, forty years old with a wife a two children, stood alone under his tent in a bright yellow rain slicker and looked lonely but defiant all by himself in that big green field with the rain coming down. He was a big man with his dark hair cut short and thinning on top, a pear shaped head, and a bulbous nose.
The thumbnail on Manzi is that the previous December he had lost his job and, with some time on his hands, surveyed the American landscape and found something terribly wrong with it: the ascendant Martha Burk. Our of some mixture of civic duty and savvy hucksterism, he started two web sites – "it takes balls" and "The Burk stops here" – which sold various anti-Burk merchandise, mostly T-shirts and golf balls with Burk’s face crossed with a red slash and the phrase "The Burk Stops Here," or "Ittakesballs.com" beneath it.
Manzi made regular cameo appearances in various accounts of the Burk and Hootie show that appeared on TV or in magazines, but it was not clear that his notoriety was translating into sales of his merchandise. The T- shirts sat in piles on his table, next to the golf balls. Every now and then someone honked in support as they drove by.
"Martha Burk has done a good job at self promotion," said the man who had spent his life savings of thirty or forty thousand dollar promoting himself as the anti-Burk. He spoke in an earnest, low key tone of voice. I was surprised to hear how rational, and soothing his voice was, until it occurred to me that it was this very tone of reasonableness that had helped convince himself that devoting his life savings to standing up to the peril of Martha Burk was a good idea.
For some reason I thought of the only other Manzi I knew, the deluded physics and chemistry teacher in Sylvia Plath’s the Bell Jar.
"I went to chemistry class five times a week and didn’t miss a single one. Mr. Manzi stood at the bottom of the rickety, old amphitheater, making blue flames and red flares and clouds of yellow stuff by pouring the contents of one test tube into another, and I shut his voice out of my ears by pretending it was only a mosquito in the distance and sat back enjoying the bright lights and the colored fires and wrote page after page of villanelles and sonnets.
"Mr. Manzi would glance at me now and then and see me writing, and send up a sweet little appreciative smile. I guess he thought I was writing down all those formulas not for exam time, like the other girls, but because his presentation fascinated me so much I couldn’t help it."
He was a marketing representative, whatever that means, who had been unemployed for the past six months. His web sites features his merchandise modeled by comely young women standing on beautiful golf course like environments. I had spent some time staring at these models, their smiles, and looking at the green grass on which they stood, trying to understand what fantasy of the good life, spiced with a little activist humor, Manzi was trying to sell. The expression on his model’s faces scared me for some reason, some slightly Stepford wife vibe coming off them. It felt like pornography. I visited the site several times. A week before The Masters, Manzi had posted his resume on the web sites with the note: "Todd Manzi needs a job!"
"She has a huge amount of power and that really frosts me," he said. "She can point a finger at any corporation and target them, and I don’t want my children growing up in a world where corporations are vulnerable to anyone who wants to write a letter."
Standing there by himself in his yellow slicker, a big sign with a slash through the words "Martha Burk" behind him, he concluded, "The only women Martha Burk represents is herself."
Having exhausted the Hootie/Martha nexus I headed to town looking for some local color.
The one bar that wasn’t a strip club was filled with a lunch crown up front, and was a pool hall in the back. The patrons seemed split evenly between people whose lunch came in the form of a burger, and people whose lunch came in the form of a bottle.
Three men caught my eye. They wore strange helmets with stickers on them, and seemed to be part of some nihilistic motorcycle gang, or maybe a punk rock group, I wasn’t sure.
One of the stickers said, "Anarchy," and another said "Fuck off." Their arms were heavily tattooed. What worried me the most, and interested me the most, was the guy slunk down in his chair, staring at his beer with far away grey blue eyes. He had white, silvery that came down to his shoulders, and mutton chops, also silvery white, thickly sprouting from his cheeks. This third guy with the mutton chops looked absolutely out of his mind, and if I want to find out what the local take on Hootie and Martha is, I feel I have to talk to him. I steel myself with a big glass of sweet iced tea and head over.
"Hi, excuse me," I say. "I’m a writer for a magazine in New York called Vogue and…"
"Vogue!" bellows they guy with the tattooed forearms. He wears a mustache, his eyes glint blue.
"It’s a fashion magazine."
"I know what Vogue is," he says, and there is a note of pride in his voice, as though he’s slightly insulted at having it explained to him. "It’s for the ladies."
The guy with the “Fuck-Off” sticker gazes implacably at me. Silver mutton chops does not avert his eyes from the bottle of Budweiser in front of him. "You know how there’s that joke about Playboy," I say. "How guy’s say ‘I read it for the articles…"
"There are some good articles in Playboy," says the man with the tattoo.
"And some nice tities," says Fuck-Off.
Heartened by the news that I have a reader on my hands, I buy them all a round and we get to talking.
It turns out that they are wearing hard hats for a reason I had not entertained while fantasizing about their gangsterism: they are construction workers.
Phil is a foreman on a crew of men working on a bridge. He’s from Baltimore as is his son, Fuck-off; they are heavy construction nomads, moving every year or two from job to job, city to city, around the Midlantic region. He’s been in Augusta about a year working on a nearby bridge and says he likes the place.
"Augusta is not your typical Southern town," he tells me. "It’s more similar to a northern town, the pace of living is faster, more open, that’s why I like it here."
Fuck-Off takes of his plaid shirt revealing a wife beater and long white arms covered here and there with tattoos. He asks his father for a dollar for the juke box. Phil, the dad, reaches into his jeans and grunts derisively.
"I like to see you reaching into your pocket," says Fuck-off.
"Some little bit of you is holding onto your childhood," says Phil. When Fuck-off leaves he adds, "Don’t ever take your kid to work, that’s my advice."
"Because it creates problems. People think you’re favoring him. You’ve got a bunch of grown men who’re just a bunch of big babies, big kids sitting around gossiping all day. I say to them, ‘you all is just a bunch of bitches!’ Ain’t that right Freddie?"
Mutton chops nods once in accent.
I ask about Martha and Hootie.
"I’ve been reading about that every day since January!" says Phil.
His interpretation of the whole bru-ha is that this has nothing to do with the average woman. "It’s a social thing. She’s rocking the boat here."
"And you don’t think the boat should be rocked?"
"She’s fighting in the south," says Phil from Baltimore. "Even the upper class here are rednecks at heart, good old boys in fancy clothes."
I turn to Mutton-chops. "What do you think of Hootie?"
"Freddie here is a Vietnam vet," says Phil.
Freddie turns his eyes, which are a steely grey blue and brightly lit, onto me for the first time and says: "Hootie is a good man."
"Do you know him?"
"I don’t know him," says Freddie. "But Hootie is an all right guy. He tells it like it is, and that’s the way it always is. He’s straight up. He don’t throw no curve balls. I don’t think women should be on the damn PGA. Why the hell start something different now!"
We get onto the subject of Vietnam. It seemed inevitable that we would, once I heard he was a vet. He speaks in a soft voice deeply beveled with the local Augusta drawl, a gentlemanly and slightly incredulous accent which pitches and rolls as he talks, as though the very act of telling sets a film reel of the events spinning before his eyes.
"I was thea’. I know what happened. I was lied to. The whole govement lied to us. That’s why they call it the wall of blood. Mos’ of ’em got scared. Ran. They were ashamed by what they did, they were ashamed to come home. Young soldiers didn’t know what to expect and they were lead to slaughter. When I came out, I was spit on. Called baby killer…"
"In Augusta! Right here! They asked what were we doing in Cambodia. I told em: ‘Shootin the hell out of VC!’ I was in the Green Berets. I’m a lieutenant. I was in the Black Batons. Special Forces. We ate snakes, dogs, anything we could think of to stay alive. I still have my parachute. I did 125 drops in ‘Nam. I have it hanging up on my wall! Five miles behind enemy lines. Don’t tell me I’m no renegade. I’m a full blown renegade!"
Some people nearby cast a glance in our direction. I wonder if we’ll have a scene. But his voice dips to a whisper.
"They say war is hell." He takes a long pause, which for some reason does not seem melodramatic, and then bellows: "It is hell!"
From there we go on to a remarkable story that took place at a local pancake house across the Savannah river a couple of years ago. Apparently he recognized a man that he had pulled bleeding into a chopper, saving his life. Nearly thirty years had transpired but apparently the men were as vivid to one another standing in line for pancakes as they had been that hellish day when a helicopter lifted one of them into the air covered in blood while Freddie stood on the ground. They had a tearful reunion and sat down to pancakes.
I ask where this reunion took place.
"Right over thea’, in South Carolina, in a Huddle House, I saw ‘im. I said to his wife, ‘It aint what I did for your husband. It’s what I did for my heart. I was on a mission. My mission was to rescue a POW. And I did it.’"
It went on like that. Phil and his son had left, and it was Freddie talking to the musty air, his beer bottle listening and me. I was really moved by Freddie. Then he told me he was an Indian. An American Indian. This was capped off by the following phrase, bellowed with gusto into the bar: "The Indian Federation will rise again!"
I sat there briefly contemplating a discussion on the conflation of the Indian’s future rise and the South’s. But I let it slide and we had a warm good bye.
"A lot of good men died over there," he said in parting. "For what?"
In the absence of any golf to watch on, the hotel lobby was full of lost souls, and Sally seemed slightly less evervescent than she had. I leaned on the counter and asked how she was doing. She told me she was doing just fine. Then she reached out and did something to my hair. She fixed some part of it that had gotten out of line or something. It was a surprisingly intimate gesture, but at the same time totally meaningless. Nevertheless it prompted an unusual request fro me.
“Can I go see the pitbulls?” I said.
“Really?” she said, rejuvenated, but then she got pensive. “I don’t know. The place is a mess.”
“I want to see all those pit bulls of yours,” I said. “And I want to meet your boyfrfiend,” I added.
“I’ll have to ask him. I suppose you could come by. They are so cute. Maybe later tonight. I get off my shift at 10. Come pick me up.”
Upstairs in the hotel room, I turned on the TV. In the absence of any golf to report ESPN was devoting a lot of time to running clips of Martha Burk’s news conference held that day at the King center in Atlanta. On CNN and every other channel, it was the war. The breathless, aloof, breaking news tone was more or less the same on all the channels.
It was day 14 of operation Iraqi Freedom. ESPN was interviewing Tim Robbins, who had been inexplicably disinvited, along with his wife Susan Sarandon, from a Bull Durham anniversary party at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It turns out The Hall of Fame is run by a former Reagan government official. Robbins peace sign at the Academy Awards had made him and his wife persona non-grata in Cooperstown.
"I didn’t know baseball was a Republican sport," said Robbins, who was given about five minutes of uninterrupted air time to discuss the matter and his views. He was eloquent, a bit baffled by the outburst, and ended on a note of apology to the ESPN viewers.
"People click on ESPN to get away from all this political stuff," he concluded, and apologized this had even become an issue.
The Hall of fame guy had disinvited Robbins and Sarandon through a press release; learned about it from a journalist. It was a similar blitzkrieg approach to public relations used by Augusta National and, as though to echo that fact, ESPN promptly went back to Martha’s news conference at the King center in Atlanta.
She stood in from of an assemblage of black men in blue blazers representing the King center, in Atlanta.
"I ask the CEO’s who belong to that club, if you support Hootie, say so. If you are against him, then you should quite the club."
In between these two sentences, there was a murmured noise from men assembled behind her, a rumble that mixed faintly evangelical overtones with the huddle break of a sports team: "Amen!"
That Thursday night, Burk, her husband Ralph, Rebecca Menzo, and couple of people from the Feminist Majority Foundation (new owners of Ms. Magazine) arrive in a super 8 on the outskirts of Augusta.
I get the news of their arrival while at the LPG dinner, held in a large pavilion where the men in blue blazers grazed between the bar and the tables stacked with shrimp and chicken and various quasi-finger food.
I met an exemplary man in the blue blazer, the Captain of the grounds keeper team at Royal Andrews in Scotland. He was a tall man with a strong, long face. His wife and I found some things to talk about for a while and then in passing she said that when I speak to her husband, I should be sure to direct myself to his right ear, as he can’t hear a thing on his left.
Finally I turned to the great man and asked him how he was doing. I must have been on the wrong side. He turned to be and within seconds was discussing the fact that golf originated in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century and was called Kalf!
Periodically I wander off and call Rebecca Menzo, to liaze with the Burk part. I had them out of Atlanta, in the mini-van heading East to Augusta. It’ a long straight ride of about 100 miles and, having driven it the previous night, I tracked them in my mind, wondering what was going on in the mini-van, how things had gone at the press conference at the King center. Finally they are in Augusta, staying at a super 8 about ten miles out of town, checked in under Rebecca’s name.
I flee the LPGA dinner as it winds down, and drive through the wet streets to the interstate. The road is wet. I pass train tracks.
In an uncertain moment, I call the hotel’s front desk to ask for directions. Then, just as a test, I ask if Burk is staying there.
"Oh yes," I’m told, "she’s here."
On the radio, the rock DJ sings out the station’s current refrain in his deep "Rock Radio" voice: "Flipping the bird to Martha Burk!"
I find it shocking and hilarious. The people of Augusta are basically treating Martha like a sock puppet they’d like to get their fist inside. The mood is made less festive by the fact that the people at the front desk know Martha Burk has checked in, even if under someone else’s name. In fact it seems ominous. I flash to the many killings and assassination that have taken place in connection with civil rights. Is Martha’s crusade about civil rights? She would say yes.
Martha’s room has a Jacuzzi. But the jacuzzi is right in the room. It sits filled to the brim in the corner, like a chaise lounge that you just happen to have to be naked to enjoy. The water, still warm, sits rapidly cooling, while five or six people arrange themselves in the no longer private space of Martha’s room. This seems like a metaphor–no more privacy, no more jacuzzis, activism all the time. Martha, in stocking feet, slacks, still in make-up, sits in a chair, excited.
When I mention they have her name at the front desk she doesn’t seem concerned, but Ralph, her husband, says, "Damn! They have her name!" As though this was precisely what he was worried about.
Ralph is a tall, gangly man, with a beard, and I am meeting him for the first time. His small teeth suggest non-violence. He has a wildly honest, big bird-like openness of expression that I find endearing. But at the moment, the emotion he is most expressing is concern.
I describe the mood on Washington Post Road, the anti-Martha stickers and the "Hootie" stickers, I describe the rock radio station ID, though I do not do the full on nasty rock radio voice, it would be inappropriate, Martha was in stockinged feet and the Jacuzzi was full. Still, after hearing it all Ralph calls out to me from his spot splayed out across the bed.
"You’re a big guy," he says. "Would you mind standing next to Martha at the rally?"
"Absolutely," I say. "I mean I’ll absolutely do it."
"I’m not asking you to take a bullet for her," he adds, "I just want some protection."
"I’ll be happy to stand next to her," I say. "Though if I’m in the way when someone shoots, I will in fact be taking a bullet for her, wont I?"
I once was the body guard for another southern lady, Eudora Welty, when she came up to her alma matter, Columbia University, where she studied writing. She did a reading, and somehow I was given the job of simply hanging around her backstage and making sure she was taking care of. I was very pleased when we both shared a scotch straight up before her performance. Martha did not anyone to make her drinks.
Still, having made this offer my thoughts turned to a disturbing subtext of the last few days. Press coverage of Martha’s scheduled protest had begun to include violent imagery. Suddenly rhetoric coming from the Augusta National camp had phrases like "bomb-thrower," and "Drive by shooter," flying around. These were the phrases someone wants to hear who is scheduling a protest.
The problem seemed to be a man named Jim McCarthy. McCarthy was the man the club had called in to quell the flames of the controversy. His previous big account was the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska.
I had first glimpsed him outside the club that day and saw boyish faced young man dressed in white linen slacks, and blue blazer. In addition to this, he had white bucks. The white linen was a bit much, but the white bucks were altogether over the top, and gave him the air of a militant preppy. He had the gleam of a man who was going to implicated in violence. Weather it was physical violence, or the abstract violence of distortion or intimidation, I could not say. I felt that the gleam in his eye was of the newly converted. He had figured something out in life. It wasn’t clear what. His calling, perhaps, his method. I sensed a brimming confidance bording of giddiness. He grossed me out deeply but, in my heart, I knew that what most disturbed me was the sense I got from that momentary glimpse that he was starring in his own movie here, and who was I, ultimtaley, to find fault with that?
McCarthy’s primary technique in this was to cast aspersions on the person who was causing Augusta National to be discussed in context’s other than golf, Martha Burk.
But “aspersions,” is probably too mild a world for McCarthy’s methods.
In the weeks leading to the tournament McCarthy had been referring to Martha as a "drive by shooter" in the press, and Martha had sent a fax asking that he not use that rhetoric as it introduces violent imagery and could be suggestive.
The next day he called her “ bomb thrower.”
"They ran your quote all day on ESPN," I tell Martha in her suite, and repeat it back to her word for word, as though to prove how often she ran it: "I ask the CEO’s who belong to that club, if you support Hootie, say so. If you are against him, then you should quite the club."
"That’s good," she says. "But did they get the second part about race and gender?"
"No," I said, "they didn’t."
Still, everyone is giddy. The Jacuzzi looks a bit tragic there in the corner of the room. I doubt it will get any use. Everyone chats for a few more minutes and the room begins to take on a pleasant, slumber party feel, with Ralph splayed out on the bed and Martha in her socks.
"Ok, we’re all running on adrenaline now," says Martha finally "We should get some sleep."
The party, if that is what it was, disperses for the night. And it occurs to me I have missed my date to see the pitbulls.
The weather cleared the next morning, and the tournament got underway.
Martha spent the day doing interviews at a restored Victorian house belonging to a couple of lawyers who do pro bono work for the ACLU. A copy of the New York Times was opened on the table, which featured a large photograph of Rebecca Menzo holding a sign that read, "Discrimination is not a sport." Her black nails stood out against the white sign. I asked her what kind of nail polish she was wearing.
"Gorgeous Diva," she said.
Ralph was on the phone with the local Planned Parenthood arranging for some freelance security for tomorrow’s rally.
All day the journalists parade in. They are here from all over the country. Martha had used the phrase "The marketplace of ideas," earlier in the day, and as the writers and TV crew and photographers are ushered in like suitors, it strikes me that right now, the market is buying the ideas that Martha has to sell.
At one point there is such a density of photographers in that their flashes, the rapid fire strobes, make the old pink walled living feel like some red carpet gala. Martha smiled and posed with a T-shirt someone had bought out on Washington Road that read, "It takes Balls to join the club."
I hung around watching it all, and then at three O’clock, when Martha was scheduled to appear on CNN, I joined her for the trip. The interview was being shot at the local CBS affiliate, located in North Augusta, which is across the Savannah river in South Carolina, and as our little convoy of three cars went over the river, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of unease at having been lured out of the safety of the big old Victorian House with the Joy of Sex, Plato, and Portnoy’s complain side by side on the bookshelf.
The news room was a strange place. Each wall featured different set-up: there was a living room type space where, I was told, a brief news updates were held every day at noon. A kitchen, where some sort of cooking program is shot, and then a strange looking arrangement of candles and white curtains. It looked a bit like a shrine or an altar or something.
"That’s for our married in the morning segment," said a technician. "In May there’s a couple who are going to be married on the air."
There was a long silence as Martha sat behind the news desk next to another woman who appeared to be an anchor from CNN. Martha asked her if she was from CNN, and she said yes.
Perhaps she understood to question to be, "are you with CNN," or perhaps this woman lied– but we were in for a surprise. When the camera was finally ready, they were live on the air. The question came in from New York, and those of us sitting there with the married in the morning alter and the kitchenette and the living room all just out of the camera’s frame waited in silence to hear a response.
Martha spoke for about forty seconds and (according to a transcript a very nervous CNN later provided) got in 119 words, including: "It is no longer acceptable for people in high places to be associated with sex discrimination."
Ten seconds of silence went by while the next question came in from New York. Then the lovely woman with the cool, far away gaze, the pink blazer, her hands clasped together patiently on the desk, began to speak. She got in 223 words. They included the remarks, " I’m a businesswoman, and I wanted it to be known that Ms. Burke doesn’t speak for me," she said, warming up, and by the end was nearly frothing: " And I think that it’s evident to the court cases and when you don’t have a legal leg to stand on I think you have to try and turn it into something that’s moral. But I find it immoral to ignore our constitution!"
And that was the end of the debate.
Burk, to her credit, kept a frozen half smile on her face while this transpired. When it was over she took the earpiece out of her ear. "I was set up," she said, rather hotly. "That was an ambush."
A person came in and said CNN Headline news wanted to do the next interview right on the heels of this one.
"Are you kidding we’re out of here, come on, this is an outrage."
"You wont stay?" said the producer.
"I’ll stay!" said the other woman, who was Renee Giacino, vice president and Center for Individual Freedom.
The Burk contingent all filed out. I didn’t hear what the producer’s response was to Giacino’s "I’ll stay!" but I suspect her services were no longer needed.
Meanwhile, we were briefly lost in the dark maze like hallways of the low, flat building housing Channel 6’s studio. After a moment a door opened, and we pushed out into the light. For days it had been cold and wet and grey, but now it was clearing, and it was bright white light in the parking lot. We moved towards out cars, wordless, too, somehow, and then it became clear we were being followed.
Our first pursuer was the producer, a tall black woman dressed elegantly in a red two piece suit, slack and a jacket. Wouldn’t Martha stay for Headline News? The answer was a firm no. I was intrigued. The game, as far as I had witnessed, was to get as much attention as possible
We were about to get into our cars when it became apparent there was another pursuer. A stocky camerawoman was pointing a news camera in our faces. It was very strange. I couldn’t help but feel that we were somehow fleeing from the scene, as though we had done something wrong, or were in mortal danger. And then Martha Burk paused and turned to the camera woman, and in one of the more effective mood reversals I have witnessed, said, very politely, in her Texas drawl, "Excuse me, may I ask who you are shooting for?"
"For the news station," said the camerawoman.
"Oh all right. I just wanted to know who what this was for," said Martha, and stood for a moment. It was a good moment. We were no longer criminals or victims running to the car to make a getaway or escape. The footage was now of a genteel woman of a certain age pausing to ask a question before she got into her car. The panic was gone. It was a solid executive decision, agile, I thought.
That night the evening news featured the footage of our exit; the story was about how Martha Burk stormed out of an interview. They really did not like Martha Burk in Augusta, Georgia. That night, hanging around with the boys in blue blazers (it was the USGA party), I wondered who would show up for her rally.
Sat April 12th — Protest day
The sun is out, the sky is blue.
My day begins at Denny’s, where my waitress is an outspoken red head named Gigi. From the extensive and animated conversation she has with the booth behind mine, I learn that she was born in Germany, and that she came here at sixteen, and has lived in Augusta every since, and has never been married, "Oh no I’m not falling into that trap! Oh no," she says. "I’ve seen too many friends fall into that, and what happens? They get divorced. What’s the point of getting married if you’re just going to get divorced?" She goes on about this at some length the previously chatty party of men in the booth behind me shut up entirely.
When I’m done I pull her aside.
"Listen Gigi," I say, in a tone of confidence, as though I need a favor, which, in a sense, I do. "I wanted to ask you a question, in total confidentiality, between you and me, although I’m a reporter. But off the record, what do you think about Martha Burk?"
"Oh!" says Gigi. "I think she is totally wrong! She’s doing a lot of bad around here…"
"But on the basic principal, never mind the practical, the more abstract…"
"I think men should be with the men and women should be with the women, they’re different kinds of people and there’s no use in pretending otherwise!"
I thank her for her time.
At the cash register, the young man ringing me looks at me earnestly and says, "Can I ask you a favor?"
"Sure," I said.
He stared at me for a few moments, and I stared back, waiting, and, in the process noticing that he had some special hearing aid thing in his ear which made me wonder sort of adversity he had to overcome in order to arrive here, at the cash register at Denny’s.
"You have a great day," he says at last. "All right?" and he sticks out his hand out.
"I will!" We shake on it.
I pause in the little vestibule outside, with a view of the parking lot, to watch a couple of guys manipulate a claw that you move around a menagerie of stuffed animals. If you position it just right it will grab one and drop it down the slot for you. The guy the claw around for a bit, hits the button, the claw descends, it grabs, but no go.
Then one of the waitresses comes out and slides a dollar into the machine and all three of us stay to watch. The waitress is a big black woman, young, and she manipulates the joy stick like a pro, she puts her whole body into it, leans into the machine, gives it some English, like people used to do with pinball. The machine groans obediently. She drags it the claw this way and that like she knows what she is doing, and I think that given what a waitress at Denny’s must make per hour, you wouldn’t be throwing away a dollar on a stuffed animal if you didn’t think you had a good chance.
The two guys were rooting for her to go for the same giant puppy that had foiled them, but she has her sites set on a more modest prize. She gets her position right, and hits the little red button on top of the joystick.
The claw descends, grabs, and comes up empty. The waitress sighs and goes back inside. She’s a big girl, and, on the outside, jolly, and it doesn’t seem to have fazed her that much. I hope she has a ton of these little stuffed animals at home. I hope they surround her and her bed is full of them. But I am not sure it is so. But in that case I hope there are least a couple. Or one.
From there my next stop is the Dollar Discount up the block from the protest site in search of a notepad, and find the store is empty. For a while I wander the aisles alone calling out, "Hello? Hello?" as though I had just walked into someone’s house and they weren’t there.
"I’m right here," comes a voice from one of the aisles, and then I see an older lady with a head of brown curly hair, very slim and relaxed, crouched down on one knee doing some restocking. I’m amazed to think that we are the only two people in the whole giant place teeming with little trinkets. But she has the demeanor of someone who has in fact stocked the whole place by hand, and doesn’t mind doing it.
I tell her what I’m after and she walks with me over to the notepads making little "how you doin?’ conversational noises, By the time we get to the cash register we have a relationship. She has her glasses on a string around her neck and puts them on to ring me up.
"So!" I say, "What do you think about Martha Burk?"
"She needs to stay where she’s at and don’t even come down here," says the lady. "We need to let bygones be bygones."
We have a warm good bye. Not quite as warm as the guy from Denny’s, but warm. All my good-byes in Augusta have been warm. The town is on friendly footing, unless you are Martha Burk.
I walked out into the bright sunny parking lot, and the weather was so lovely and clear that it was difficult to imagine that for the two days previous it had been freezing and wet. The words, "We need to let bygones be bygones," turned around in my head. It was such an odd thing to say. It’s what one says after there had been a fight. It’s a line people use when there a grudge that is getting in the way of moving forward. A long standing feud. It has an echo of the familial.
Well, I thought, there is a fight here in Augusta, there is a grudge, held by both sides. And in a way it is familiar, because what else is a conflict that’s involved what men get to do and where women get to go, but involving the components of the family. The fight’s main event was taking place about a hundred yards from the parking lot I was walking across. The official starting time was in a couple of hours. It was such a beautiful day it was hard to imagine dissonance or violence, but then beautiful days don’t have anything to with that.
The protest field was essentially two protest fields, with a few trees in between. In one, there were so many police cars it was as though a big Hollywood movie was being shot in town, and today was the day of the big chase scene. In the middle of all the blue and white and black cars arranged like a Mondrian grid, was a giant school bus that had been painted grey sitting with its side facing the road, where everyone driving by could make out the words "Richmond County Jail."
In a drama where names had a particular resonance (Hootie, the Masters, Martha) it is worth mentioning the name of Augusta, Georgia’s sheriff: Ronnie Strength.
In addition to the police the far field was filling up with people protesting against the protesters, that was their designated area, and the near field had a small soundstage that was in the process of being set up. But the protesters had not arrived in any numbers. The action was the protest-protesters. These people were involved in a peculiar, meta-form of protest.
One of them, A man had driven all the way from Los Angeles with a friend to protest Jessie Jackson.
"We’re here to support the Augusta Country Club. Jesse Jackson is a shakedown artist and a con man. I’m an American committed to standing up for what is right. If you don’t stop Martha Burk and Jessie Jackson here, they’re going to do it at other clubs."
A group called "People Against Ridiculous Protests" had set up a banner with their logo, and then left.
A man wandered around in a Tuxedo waving a banner that read: "Formal protest."
And then, the coup de grace, and a sure sign that we were at a carnival and this was a theater of the absurd. A man dressed as a sort of granny elf transvestite hunchback of Notre dame, who had draped the entire contraption of her/himself in am American flag wandered around with a delighted, slightly mischievous smile, but no clear indication on whose side, if any, he was on. Then there was the Elvis impersonator. Milling around all this were a good number of journalists and cameramen and so forth, and, as is the case in so many contexts, the arrival of Elvis caused a stir.
Right then, before the first pro-Martha protester showed up, I felt like the day had been decided. The Theater of the Absurdists would carry the day. Across the street a number of locals had set up on someone’s lawn in beach furniture, the men bare chested and clutching beverages, all of them with signs saying "Martha go home!" and so forth. They waved their fists in the air and cheered when Elvis made the scene.
Everyone crowded around Elvis and smiled and clapped his back and took his picture, and the general feeling was that the whole ridiculousness of the day had been put in perspective. The Elvis impersonator did a variety of Elvis moves. TV Cameras rolled, pens scribbled, flashes flashed, all was well in America, and then Elvis expressed his one sole desire and the reason he, said, he had come out this fine morning: Like half the town, it seemed, he wanted a ticket to the Masters.
Me too, I thought. And wasn’t wearing a rhinestone studded white jumpsuit. I just had my blue blazer with my Double Eagle pin stuck onto the lapel and the gold buttons, and on the right sleeve, I had noted unhappily that morning, and two of the four gold buttons were missing.
Just then the odds that I would get my Pimento and Cheese sandwich seemed particularly bleak.
All of this activity, in both fields, was taking place in a field about eight feet lower than the road itself. There was a narrow strip of grass up where the road was that the police were keeping clear, but everyone tried to perch there for the view, anyway.
Jim Pinkerton ("no relation") is a TV news reporter for the local NBC affiliate, and he takes in the scene serenely from his perch above it by the road. He’s got a microphone held down by his waist like a baton. I asked him what he thought about all this,
"The money that comes into this town during the Masters is huge," he said. "It’s a thirteenth month of income in one week for this town. You’ve got the kids running around trying to get extra money, a lot of women involved in catering…" he trailed off and we both nodded are heads at the thought of all the women and kids running around for extra money that wouldn’t be able to find any.
"Over in the Westlake gated community, a fair number of the residents have all left town and sublet their places to corporations who are entertaining clients. You can pay your yearly mortgage that way," he said.
I spotted Jim McCarthy hovering nearby. He was wearing a blue blazer of his own, white linen pants, the white bucks, and ray-bans. It seemed clear that the movie version of Less Than Zero, and perhaps the entire brat pack, had made an indelible mark on his sense of style and perhaps sense of self. His slicked back hair reminded me of the film Bugsy Malone, a gangster movie in which the gangsters are all children. He looked very old and very young at the same time. I went over to say hello, but he was on the phone, so I chatted his friend, a young lady in a nice looking trench coat who asked who I was writing for.
She seemed very pleased to hear I was writing for Vogue.
"I’ve been in Anna Wintour’s house," she told me.
I confess that this remark caused, for a split second, a little bit of anxiety.
"How do you know Anna?" I asked. The idea that their might be some social connection that would require me to be nice to Jim McCarthy was something I found unnerving. It dovetailed with the sensation of enforced gentility that masked some sort of violence which was the whole paranoid underpinning of my time in Augusta, as though someone who, a la Invasion of The Body Snatchers, perceive the insincerity of my blue blazer and begin howling and pointing. I was poised on the verge of outright hostility to this name dropper.
"Well,” she began. “My college friend was her children’s nanny for a little while," she said. "Then she quit."
This woman was also wearing Ray-bans. Her raincoat on a sunny day was sweet, somehow. I was immediately mollified. It was awful. "And one time when I was up in New York I called her and she was over at Anna Wintour’s house and Anna was out so I went over and visited the house."
"Oh," I said.
"So I don’t really know her personally."
I had the disturbing vision of a nanny and her friend getting shit faced in Anna’s living room and it was a scary thought. But funny, too, like “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.”
McCarthy was still on the phone, so I said good bye and wandered over to the next field, the protest field.
A very small stage was being set up with a sound system. Eddie Brickel and the New Bohemians is playing, "What you are and what you want," which seemed to be an absurdly cliché song to be playing at a feminist rally, for some reason. A few moments pass, and then there is a commotion, and a bus pulls up.
The state troopers in their wide brimmed hats and crisp blue shirts lined up by the side of he road. The shirtless folks who had set up across the road on a small hill with signs saying "Go Home Martha!" perk up, and a tension suddenly fills the air, as though something might at any moment happen. I realize the state troopers, in their blue shirts, their wide brim hats, their Oakley wrap around shades, are redolent of imagery that has nothing to do with this bus or this moment. I’m talking about old footage one sees of civil rights marches and riots and George Wallace standing in the school door saying that black people would never be admitted. Or maybe that’s an image that is relevant. I don’t know. But while the bus idles and its door remain closed and the troopers line up, there is a moment of tension that even the nearby Elvis impersonator can not diffuse.
A driver that has slowed to rubberneck at the whole scene is being yelled at by a state trooper.
"You! You! Off the road! Right over there! Now!" The trooper’s neck muscles are bulging, it’s like he’s having a stroke. The car pulls over, a few yards down, and the trooper shakes his head in amazement that people can be so stupid. His anger seems misplaced. But it just adds to the scene.
Finally, the bus door swings open with a gassy wheeze, the way those bus doors do, a hydraulic sigh. A moment of suspense, and then out steps a young woman, approximately college age, sporting a pink T-shirt that reads "Feminist Majority." And holding a placard that reads, "Discrimination is not a sport!"
Over her T-shirt she’s wearing a purple sash that, to my eyes, reads disturbingly as the sort of paraphernalia one might find at a beauty contest with the words, "Ms. Arkansas" emblazoned on it. Her sash has no letters on it, but I wonder what it might say. What team, what state? Ms… maybe just Ms. Ms.!
The first protester off the bus is followed by another young woman in the same outfit. She in turn followed by another young woman in the same outfit. They walk with solemn measured steps, as though down the aisle at a wedding. They are the bridesmaids. In the end, they’ve got bridesmaid numbers. One after the other, they disembark, and then some African Americans, most of them high school age kids, get off wearing white pants and Push T-shirts. I stare at the door waiting for more bodies with pink "Feminist Majority" T shirts. But there are none. I’d put the total number of the feminist majority ladies at around twelve. The total off the bus at twenty of twenty five at most.
Where the police there to protect the golf fans and the towns people from the rowdy and agitated protesters, or where the police there to protect the protesters from the rowdy and agitated townspeople and golf fans?
A few moments went by. And then the door closed. That was it. There were twice as many journalists as protesters, and twice as many police and journalists. Maybe the police were there to protect everyone from the journalists. Like everything else that seemed to unfolding that day, and almost everything connected to the whole scandal of Augusta National’s intransigence, they seemed there largely for the symbolic purpose of letting everyone know that Sheriff Ronnie Strength had matter under control.
Down by the sound stage, the ladies were milling around helping to set up.
I approached one of them, to ask her some questions about why she was here.
Her name was Ammie Boone, fresh faced blond in pink T shirt, and asked her why the name, "Feminist Majority."
"It’s a great name because then people have to say the word feminist. People are very afraid to say that word.
I asked her what book most influenced her, wondering if it would be a feminist classic or something more contemporary.
"Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov," she after a moment. "It changed my life. It seduces you and sucks you in and its wonderful and terrible at the same time to get into his head as he’s molesting a little girl."
I had barely recovered from this comment, and was about to ask if there were any, say, more explicitly feminist books that had contributed to her being here today, when I looked up and, more or less for the first time that day, saw something that shocked me and seemed a bit dangerous.
What I saw was a scrawny man standing in a white T-shirt on which he had hand written in blocky black letters, as though with a piece of coal, "Golf is Vile."
His brown hair was cut in a shaggy, scooby-doo style that in certain precincts would actually have been pretty stylish, though on the whole he exuded an energy that was anti-style. He was a transcendentalist figure. There was certainly some Emerson and Thoreau lurking around in the man’s education, I was sure. He had arrived in our midst to say the unsayable, and he was saying it on his T-shirt.
His slenderness gave him a deranged yet slightly messianic appearance. When I say he seemed dangerous, I mean to himself.
He was someone who could be a lightning rod figure for all those people who had for long been exasperated my Martha Burk’s barrage of homey common sensisms on TV, her faintly litigious rationality of debate, and her mastery, of the Southern Language of Sir and Ma’am, which every progressive politician who had gone anywhere in the last thirty years has had to speak. Martha, they could jeer. But this guy, this guy they could pound with their bare hands and throw into a dumpster with less effort than it would take to hoist a case of beer off the rack.
Immediately he was descended on by reporters. This was better than Elvis! A real live freak! I left the smiling Nabokov fan, and scampered up the embankment to join the gathering crowd of journalists.
I approached him from behind, and was disheartened to read the back of his shirt. There, in the same home made scrawl, he had written, "Golf Destroyes!"
I overheard two men commenting about this misspelling.
"If you’re going to put something on your shirt, shouldn’t you fucking spell it right?" said one. I peered at his press credential: Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis star.
"Nobody says they were literate," says his colleague from Indianapolis in a hateful tone of voice.
The man in the T-shirt was literate, it turns out.
His name is Alan Ditmore, and he was a Diary Farmer from Leicster, North Carolina, who had come all this way for the sole purpose of making his statement, which he repeated in the calm tones of someone who is used to speaking to groups of reporters.
"Golf is a waste of natural resources," he said. "It’s a waste of land, and a symbol of our failure to build affordable housing. It’s part of the reason so many younger people are getting priced out of the communities where they have been raised."
This sounded autobiographical, but his voice was cool and devoid of resentment.
He went on to discuss how golf courses require fertilizer in such quantities that it pollutes the environment. Only at the end of this speech, when he veered into the topic of birth control and environmentalism, (the best thing to do for the environment is contain population growth, he was saying) did he veer even slightly into the realm of the wacky. For most he seemed to have good arguments to support his T-shirt’s claim, which in Masters weekend in Augusta was a perfect heresy.
Alan Ditmore made perfect sense – even if you didn’t agree with him, you would have to concede he wasn’t a raving lunatic – but the reporters around him talked to him in the gentle, condescending voice one might use on someone you’ve found down the road from a mental institution wearing a white smock, humoring him until the authorities came with a straight jacket.
One reporter from Birmingham, Alabama, an older fellow who was dressed in a manner that suggested he planned to go fishing later that day, took notes dutifully but kept looking up at Ditmore as though he was the weirdest fish he had ever lay eyes on, the product of some genetic mutation.
"What do you do?" he asked.
"I’m a farmer," said Ditmore.
I almost cheered. A farmer! Holy shit! Not just some college drop out degenerate anarchist hippie pot smoking flag burning scum, a farmer!
He was immediately grilled on the nature of his farm.
A dairy farmer, it turns out.
What kind of cows?
"Shirlay, Angus. They’re essentially mutts, commercial mixes."
At this point I nearly bellowed out, "You don’t have to apologize for your cows, the closest any of these guys have ever been to a cow is the little creamers you get at Denny’s whose foil you feel back that don’t even contain any milk!"
When the crowd around him thinned, at last, I pulled him aside and said, "I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you have a misspelled word on the back of your shirt."
"I do? Oh God," he said. "Which one?"
"Oh man," he said. He sighed. His thin, narrow chest heaved a little. He seemed embarrassed by it. He disappeared for a while, and came back with the word awkwardly corrected. "I once spelled apartheid wrong," he said.
"I heard you telling people your name and where you’re from," I said. "I would be careful about that if I were you. You don’t want the whole world knowing where the Golf is Vile guy lives."
"No one with revenge in their hearts is going to drive all the way to Asheville, North Carolina," he said. "But I wore a shirt over my T-shirt until I got here. I didn’t want to be walking around with Golf is Vile in this town. My main concern coming down here was getting arrested or beaten up. I’ll put it back on when I leave."
Alan Ditmore seemed like the most sane person present at the whole event.
Back at the anti-protest, a man calling himself ‘The One Man Klan,’ holding forth for a small crowd in front of him. He was just one lone crazy and didn’t speak for the Klan, it was clear. But on the other hand, who spoke for the Klan? Did the Klan have their own Jim McCarthy, stomping around in white bucks with hair neatly greased back? Could you send a fax to the Klan asking for their position? No. So Burk had delightedly told Jon Stewart on his show, "When the Ku Klux Klan comes out in support of your position, you’ve officially lost the argument, in my opinion," and drawn a cheer.
I come upon the him speaking in the slow laborious manner of a person who feels his audience is willing to wait for him to finish his sentences. His accent was Deep ‘Deliverance’ South, nasal, repellent to the point of being comic.
"Let me tell you a little about Mama," is what he is saying when I arrive. I glance at the literature on his table. Illustrations of men in hoods… I decide against hearing anything about his mama, and walk away.
Further down anti-protester row, I see that a new color has sprung up to go along with the red slashes across Martha Burk’s face: pink.
At Todd Manzi’s booth, the Anchor tenant of the anti-protest protesters, a large sign has sprung up in front of his table which reads, in big letters: "There are more important issues facing women. Support breast Cancer Awareness Buy a bottle of spring water"
The man standing behind the booth is not Manzi himself, who is almost certainly off somewhere giving interviews, but a man named Bill Ragnow, who is the specialty products business. He has whipped up a batch of pint size bottles of water whose labels display the anti-Burk logo: Martha Burk’s face with a red danger slash through it.
I buy a bottle of water and he tells me, "If we make any money we’ll give at least half to Breast Cancer Awareness."
I don’t even bother to dwell on the vagary of ‘at least half,’ because the very presence of the sign suggests that they aren’t likely to be making any money. The guy seems downright grateful to me for having made the purchase, and I buy a second bottle to further cheer him up. He gives me a business card for his specialty product business.
I suddenly picture the moment when he is converted by Todd Manzi into believing that an investment in a truck load of bottled water with Martha’s Burk’s face on it will sell like hot cakes. The way he is manning the bottled water stand makes me quite sure he put some of his own money into it. That moment surely seems far away right now.
"So before this event, have you been much involved in Breast Cancer awareness?" I ask.
"No, I haven’t been involved in Breast cancer before this," he says somewhat bashfully, and then perks up. "But my sister in law is a survivor."
A few yards away a man named Ron Pontiff stands in front of a sign that reads: "Golfers for real causes."
"We’re a non profit diverting attention away from Burk’s one woman crusade," he tells me. "We are focusing on Breast Cancer awareness, which is an issue that actually matters to women."
Pontif looks very strange standing there, in part because of the fact that he has no booth, no tent, no acolytes, and no literature, other than the "Golfers for Real Causes" sign in front of him, and in part because of the doll. He stands with his hands behind his back, the doll resting on his chest. The doll is weird. Yet his general demeanor seems extremely normal and reasonable, the demeanor of a businessman, albeit one who is standing on a roadside in the hot mid day sun with a strange cabbage patch like doll with flaming pink hair hanging around his neck like a giant, and very disturbingly weird, amulet.
Pontif’s day job, as it were, is owner and president of Lucky Charms Golf Accessories. Business, he tells me, has been slow. The doll that is hanging from his neck, on his chest, like a little baby, is one of Lucky Charms products. Its relationship to golf is unclear.
"Why are you wearing a doll around your neck?" I ask.
"I thought the Pink Troll would be appropriate," he says in dead seriousness. "The pink hair and all showing a support for breast cancer."
I ask how Golfers for Real Causes was faring. "Donations have not gone as well as we thought they would, unfortunately."
Martha Burk takes the stage in front of a sea of cameras and photographers and reporters, and here and there someone with a sign saying, "Discrimination is not a sport."
This protest, it was now clear, is a tempest in a TV set. It’s impossible not wonder if that is what this whole thing has been all along, one of those circus like diversions that mainstream media keeps throwing into the gaping maw of seemingly insatiable public appetite for circus like diversions. Nothing Martha or anyone else on stage can say is able to distract from the simple, unassailable truth that no one has shown up for her protest.
Up on the embankment, I see Jim McCarthy with his cell phone pressed to his head, still bent forward like an someone who has just taken a punch to the solar plexus. He’s talking rapidly, his face lit with glee.
"We’re here in the 51st state of Augusta, Georgia!" Martha begins. "We have the lower forty eight, Hawaii and Alaska… and the police state of Augusta!
"This is the 4th protest I’ve been to since January. We’ve been to the supreme court to defend abortion. We have been working on Title Nine. We went to the white house to protest about our Domestic priorities, child care, health care. We can protest in front of the supreme court of the united states, but we can not get in front of the Augusta National Golf Club!"
A tiny pathetic cheer goes up from the crowd.
And a man raises a placard above his head that reads, "Make me dinner!"
On the other side it reads, "Wash my dishes!"
A chuckle emanates from the journalists and the cops. He stands there with the sign aloft for several minutes until a police officer taps him on the shoulder. Then he retreats to the back of the crowd. Several journalists and cameramen move towards him, and as they pose the first question I see the man – young, athletic, exhilarated, and smiling – lick his lips and gulp some air. It is the gesture of someone calming their adrenaline rush, preparing for their close up. It’s the expression of a guy who has just realized that the girl he has been hitting on is going to let him fuck her that very night, and has gone to the bathroom for one freshening up and a glance at the mirror, where his fantasy leapfrogs the sexual event right in front of him and delves into the gleeful retelling of it that will follow in the days and weeks that follow. It’s the expression when he sees himself in the mirror.
This bizarre image is what flashes through my head in the moment before I turn back to face the stage, and for some reason it makes me a little sick. Maybe because I feel like he’s just fucked Martha.
For the first time since I have been paying attention to her, Martha Burk does not seem cool and in control during her speech. It’s not entirely her fault: it’s hard to seem cool and in control under the bright sun, on a little stage, with cars moving along the road eight feet above. But all those progressive politicians from the land of Sir and Ma’am were always able to notch up their public speaking style into the realm of the revival, the evangelical (Jimmy Carter was a minister and Bill Clinton was in how own way a revivalist), yet Burk seems unable to do this gracefully, at least on this attempt. Her raised voice is not becoming. But she is the best speaker of the day.
Burk was followed by Carolyn Maloney, the congresswoman from New York. Maloney has introduced legislation barring discriminatory clubs, and an earlier conversation I’d had with her on the phone demonstrated her to be a tough, unapologetic New York Liberal willing to duke it out on matters of equality, and very able to think on her feet, figuratively.
Standing on her feet, literally, however, in front of the sparse crowd she did not do any thinking. Instead, she read slogans off a cue card, her eyes dipping down conspicuously after every phrase. She may as well have been heard to stage whisper, "line!" to some invisible prompter down in the orchestra. She wore a light blue jacket and skirt suit, her blond hair was in an impressive wave, and her lipstick was pink. It was not a good day to be wearing make up, but Maloney’s seemed unaccountably thick. Then again, I thought, people on television always look like they are wearing a ridiculous amount of make-up when you see them in person, and perhaps Maloney’s energy was directed entirely at the cameras. There weren’t to many other objects to which to direct it in the sparse crowd, anyway. Furthermore, the TV news allows for one sound bite, more or less. So perhaps Maloney was reeling off a whole menu of sound bites from which news editors could choose.
But all this occurred to me later, and as I stood on the field that day I mostly looked on with amazement, comparing the animated woman on the phone, speaking swiftly in between meetings and making perfect charismatic sense in a Brooklyn accent, to the stilted figure standing up there now, pausing after each slogan, as though there was a soundtrack in her mind broadcasting an imaginary roar of approval from the crowd. The crowd itself stared mute and hardly made a word. The only ambient noise was the occasional derisive honk of a passing car that has slowed to watch, and the steady grinding thrum of a little engine that was in the process of inflating a giant pink pig behind the stage.
Maloney spent a fair amount of time on the KKK, which seemed absurd because the KKK was represented by one lunatic going on about his mama in the next field over. Hootie Johnson had been progressive on the subject of race relations in the sixties. He could not be smeared as a KKK representative. This seemed like pandering to the lowest common denominator of the media.
Burk then introduced Eleanor Smeal by calling her "the woman who taught us all how to do it, a long distance runner, my friend and mentor, Eleanor Smeal!"
Smeal stood before the microphone and surveyed the crowd. Before she even said a word her face was streaked with a level of indignation, as though someone had just a moment earlier insulted her mother, and now she had taken the microphone to respond. She seemed like a prize fighter who had done the requisite warm ups in the dressing room, backstage, who had broken a sweat and gotten loose and now was ready at the bell.
"What we are saying to Mr. Johnson is ‘Open Up Those Doors to Women!" she shouted.
A man stood beside me wearing a tuxedo and black tie. His patent leather shoes pressed into the green grass. On his shoulder was a sign that read, "Formal protest."
In the weeks and months after this protest I made a kind of hobby out of asking various people, especially women, especially young women whose politics and outlook seemed to be feminist, if they had ever heard of Eleanor Smeal. I had heard of Smeal. She was the founder of the National Organization for Women, and its long time face and voice. I didn’t know too much, but I knew that.
And yet somehow her name had escaped the majority of these women to whom I put Smeal’s name. They shrugged and gave me blank stares while I said, "Wow, I don’t believe it, you don’t know who she is?"
I report this not as a slight to Smeal, but it seems worth noting because of all the speakers of the day it was Smeal who was by far the most rousing and compelling, the most natural and fiery in a way that Burk, at least on the podium that day, was not.
Her voice was strident, and the way her eyes bulged a little when she speaks lends an air of panic to the proceedings. As someone speaking to a crowd of people assembled on a field, eight feet below the adjoining road, gathered under the mid day Georgia sun, she is rousing. But the public she is speaking to is not on that field. They are on the other end of the thirty or forty cameras focused on her, and I am quite sure that the urgency she is conveying in real time will be lost on replay, or at least diminished. Smeal is smart, but she is also spluttering somehow and shrill. If shrill is too judgmental a remark, too pejorative, then perhaps I should say "foreign." What she is foreign too is the tone of discourse as it is practiced in the hushed, hallowed world of Golf, with its fetish for tradition and gentlemanly behavior, and the joky, backslapping, frat boy ambience of ESPN and Sports Illustrated and, by extension, Forbes and Fortune. Smeal’s voice is a distinctly foreign sound in the South, too. Perhaps part of Burk’s effectiveness on a basic level is the fact that she is from Texas, which seems such fertile ground for outspoken liberal women such as former governor Ann Richards and columnists Molly Ivins and Liz Smith.
She got the crowd going, though, or at least the portion of the crowd that were not journalists.
"The first year they let women into the airforce academy, they graduated at the top of their class! Women can’t just compete, they can excel!"
The crowd erupts with its largest cheer of the day.
A woman from PUS follows Smeal.
"Being black and female, you understand that race and sex discrimination are the same thing," she begins. She is eloquent and forceful and for some reason all the her words wash over me as boilerplate. I find myself staring at the young black teenage boy watching her. He’s wearing a Push T shirts and holding a sign, wondering how he got into all this, and what they would make of the bald headed, dark skinned reverend standing in the other field who had driven all the way from Los Angeles to deride PUSH and its founder as a shake-down artist. The kid has a sweet face and a heavy, broad forehead that weighs on his brow. I hate to think of him getting yelled at. Yet he seems like cannon fodder out here.
Martha Burk has described the Golf world as a "media rich environment." The phrase is a combination of understatement and technocratic wonkiness that is characteristic of Burk’s approach to her business. If her business can be described as getting attention for issues of concern to women, then Golf has been very good for business. It’s an odd and oddly contemporary twist that Burk has found a platform for her issues in the sports pages, and on sports TV, as opposed to the news pages. It is like an echo of book publicists who are always talking about the value of getting coverage "Off the book page."
Burk comes to the podium for closing remarks.
"This issue is about power prestige influence and money in America. You don’t get into Augusta National because you have a low handicap," she says. "You get in because you are somebody."
The huge pig is now fully inflated, and on its side there is a banner with various familiar corporate logos.
Martha then announces that they have received special intelligence on a party that Judge Bowman, the man who ruled against her in the heated wrangling over where she would be allowed to protest in Augusta, had just that very morning thrown a big party out at his ranch, ‘the Bullhorn farm!’
"Sam Nunn was in attendance, and he is on the board of Coke!"
Delivering the breathless news that the former head of the Senate Armed forces committee (chk) is attending the party thrown by a judge in Augusta, Georgia, on Masters week, does not seem like an auspicious beginning to the corporate pressure campaign.
That someone connected to the event called in the information, a surreptitious leak, is interesting. Who did it? (The butler, the housekeeper, another guest, the wife of another guest?) It raises the specter of some kind of underground resistance in the Augusta.
But this resistance had no name, no face, no body. On the ground reporters and cameramen outnumbered the protesters by two to one. The Elvis impersonator was still wandering around, looking for a ticket. Later, he would make the front page of Sports Illustrated.
And then, just like that, it is all over. Martha makes her way to the large SUV with black tinted windows about fifty yards away at the back of the field. The sun is high and hot. Ralph is in the driver’s seat, wearing a straw hat, his hands on ten and two O’clock on the steering wheel. But the car, and an accompanying man who I gather is my bullet taking stand in, are not going anywhere. She is mobbed by supporters.
A crush of reporters crowds around as the tinted rear window lowers to reveal Martha’s face, as though framed. A cameraman pushes his way to the front of the crowd, and then Representative Maloney’s almost comically appears in the frame, crowding Martha with a big smile. It is a natural enough impulse for a politician, but it highlights my sense that as much as Burk has been accused, by her adversaries, of personal grandstanding, her style is relatively demure, and she never seems to be pushing her face into the frame of a picture.
"We have to go!" yells Ralph. "Come on!"
"What next?" yells a reporter.
"This pig likes to travel!" says Martha.
Rick Riley, Sports Illustrator’s Million dollar columnist, is the last man standing besides the window as the car begins to ease out of its spot. He is firing off questions rapidly, but with the casual ease of someone who has just struck up a conversation with the next guy in line at a concession stand.
Riley’s line of questioning is interesting to me, and not just because he is the highest paid sportswriter in the country. Interspersed with the information that his wife had met Martha Burk once, he keeps asking about how this is going to end for Martha, "on a personal level."
What if Hootie and Augusta National never back down? He asks. "Then there is no way out of this for you, right?" he says.
It strikes me as a sinister line of reasoning, the implication being that Martha has locked her self into a destiny of endless squabbling over an issue she will never win, against a faceless enemy who will never directly engage her. To follow this line of reasoning, to stand up for an issue to condemn yourself to either giving up at some point, or to spending your whole life consumed by, and defined by, the issue. For some reason I flash to Lenny Bruce, who became a lawyer to defend himself against the baseless criminal charges that ruined his show business career, and died a junkie, dirt broke. Not that Martha is a comedian. But she has certainly got people riled.
"I’ve got thirty two more issues that are more important than this one," she says. "I never thought Golf would be the one to get all the attention."
Meanwhile, a very muscular state trooper with a shaved head and wrap around sunglasses is standing beside the car next to the driver’s window, which is open.
"Thank you for all your help!" says Ralph, and I can see his populism and friendliness straining against his desire to gun the SUV and tear away from the cloying reporters.
The trooper smiles an alligator grin at Ralph. "No problem! Any time!"
Ralph reaches out to shake his hand with both hands. They shake hands in a peculiar way, all four hands are engaged, two pairs. All of a sudden it looks like a wrestling match and, as though acknowledging this new development, the state trooper, muscles bulging at the back of his neck, forearms the size of Ralph’s thigh, says, "You think you can take me?"
Before he can answer Martha retorts comes from the back window.
"Don’t give him the chance," she says, and rolls up her window. The SUV is set in motion. It is a genius response. Martha Burk stands by her man!
Another safe house filled with books and plants, light pouring in, only a five minute drive from the front gate of Augusta National. Chili is on the pot in the kitchen, vegetarian and chicken. Maloney, Smeal, Burk, and the other strategists behind the protest sit on sofas and chairs in a bright airy livingroom while a gaggle of girls in Feminist majority T-shirts sit on the floor.
There is a giddiness in the room, and the softy air of the quiet neighborhood, and the flowers outside in the garden, and the smell of food from the kitchen, all contributes to a collective relaxing of shoulder and lowering of guards.
"I want to say thank you to everyone," says Martha. "Especially Ralph, for keeping me from going slap-eyed nuts."
Everyone in the room is a woman, except for me and a fair haired young man who is wearing a Gore 2000 T-shirt and was the person responsible for getting the pig inflated. Ralph is another room, having a rest.
"This has gone faster than anything we have ever done," says Burk. "The other clubs took years to integrate. The only thing that went this fast was little league in 74′."
"It’s like Custer’s last stand!" says Smeal. "They know they are going to loose. After this, where are they going to go? Saudi Arabia?"
"There’s a sex element here, no doubt about it," says Burk. "They don’t want their wives here. This is their big weekend where they can do something that has a sex element that their wives would not appreciate."
Then she settles everyone down and makes a short speech thanking Eleanor Smeal for being a mentor and a friend.
"I don’t know if I was a mentor, but if I was I must have done something right," says Smeal. "I was the president of NOW when Martha was a chapter president in Wichita, Kansas."
The girls in the pink T-shirts are sitting on the floor, and it occurs to me that this banter is in some respects for their benefit; they are the future of the political movement that Smeal was part of starting and that Burk has, in an own odd way, publicized enormously. At the moment they look like wide eyed college kids.
"I was amazed at how many reporters came up to me," says Maloney, in her blue suit.
Some literature that I took from the One Man Klan’s table is passed around excitedly. Martha is sipping on a can of Bud, elbows on her knees.
"I can’t believe the club was letting McCarthy introduce such violent imagery into the debate," she says. It turns out Alan Shipnuck of Sports llustrated, had quoted a local as saying Martha ought to be shot in his Sports Illustrated article.
"The editor of Sports Illustrated should have looked at that and said, ‘We’re not a tabloid."
Carolyn Maloney heads back to New York in her baby blue two piece suit. The Feminist Majority ladies sit on the floor cross legged and eat their lunch.
For some reason I brought up Todd Manzi.
"This morning he had a big sign about breast cancer in front of his tent," I said. "You know it’s sad. It’s almost like he feels like by standing up for these corporations they’re going to give him a job, you know, as a reward."
"They’re not going to give him a job," said Martha. " I feel sorry for him."
"I feel sorry for his wife," someone quipped.
It feels like a field trip or a picnic. Martha thanked Eleanor Smeal for being a mentor.
Speeches and toasts. Warm feelings. It was lovely. I looked around the room, wondering if this was the start of something or the end.
In the ensuring weeks and months I make a private game out of asking people, especially people who seem likely to either call themselves a feminist or have feminist sympathies, if they knew how Eleanor Smeal was. On the whole, they do not.
I sit quietly watching and listening to the testimonials, thinking, what now? Is an inflatable pig with corporate logos going to galvanize anyone? It seems like the only hope for real assistance comes from the man who has been, in own odd way, these women’s biggest benefactor: Hootie Johnson. In weeks after the tournament, we was quoted as saying that the club will never admit a woman.
Later that afternoon, I sat on the patio of The Double Eagle Club, a corporate hospitality suit across the street from Augusta National. In hindsight I see that The Double Eagle was merely a very elaborate and advanced version of some tables set up under a tent. But at the time, in the heat of the Masters chaos, the place seemed substantial. The valet parking, the giant TV monitors set up inside, the air conditioning, the golfers and famous athletes and TV personalities strewn here and there, the open bar, the guy who sat up front hand rolling cigars, the lavish buffet, the top of the line media room with high speed internet access, even the various little toiletries available in the men’s room (Scope!), all made it seem like the Double Eagle was practically an extension of Augusta National itself.
Inside there were a squadron of big tables, each one of which has been purchased by a company so their guests can put their feet up and put some space between themselves at the hordes.
In past years every table had the name of a company on it, but this year they have the names like Redbud and Nandina, (the names of each hole on the Augusta National course), which in turn correspond to a company’s name. In other words, corporations who bought tables don’t want to be identified. A year ago, I was told, the place was packed. Now it seems bereft.
I had been brought into the Double Eagle by Christine Brennan-USA Today had a table- and acquired a little Double Eagle pin for the lapel of my blazer as soon as possible. If I was going to get onto the course, it seemed likely The Double Eagle was going to be the conduit in some way or other. I had lingered there a bit on Friday, and on Saturday I returned, tossed the keys to the valet, and put my feet up on the patio. It was nearly three in the afternoon. The protest was over. All that was left to do was to get on the course.
"Do you know what is over there?" said a man to my left wearing a yellow shirt. His name was Ira, and he worked at the Double Eagle. He nodded across the street at the Augusta National Golf Club, where at that very moment Tiger Woods was mounting a comeback.
Since it was obvious what was over there I nodded my head and waited for Ira to continue.
"What you’ve got over there is probably the highest per capita income of any sports event in the world, in terms of the fans," he said. "You’ve got the most prestigious Golf Club in the world over there, and the most prestigious tournament in the world."
"Yep," I ventured.
"And to think that all this noise gets made, for what? Did you see the protest?"
"Exactly. For what? It’s just a media circus."
I was a little worried about Ira and his yellow shirt. The place was swarming with suspicious looking yellow shirted men. It turns out they were all down from Chicago, where the sports marketing firm, IGM, which runs the double eagle is located. The people wearing black golf shirts, on the other hand, were locals from Augusta. They were the really friendly one’s who poured your drink and parked your car.
I sat slouched in my lounge chair taking in Ira’s rumination about the Golf club across the street. It was making me a bit sad. I had come to Augusta to witness what promised to be a strange stand-off between the old and the new, the insiders and the outsiders, the golfers and the feminists. I had come to see the passing parade. I saw a kind of circus, but what did the outside mean with a view of what it was outside of?
I wanted to taste a pimento and cheese sandwich.
I got in. It wasn’t from the man in the idling RV with the huge sign saying "Masters Tickets" on Washington Road. It wasn’t from one of the smaller ticket operations that lined that same road, mostly guys sitting by themselves in beach chairs with a cardboard sign that read, "Tickets: buy/sell." I’d heard the going rate on the street was three thousand dollars.
Not long after Ira slithered away, I made friends with a person whose parent belonged to Augusta National. It seemed that maybe the parent had perhaps been somewhat withholding on the allowance front, and that, combined with the fact that you can only watch so much golf, conspired to create an opportunity. There was some cash exchanged, but it was really just a gesture. "Oh good," said my benefactor, "now I can drink imported beer."
I wish I could report that it was all done with a gentlemanly ease, but this was not so. It was a furtive deal, and even though our immediate surroundings were genteel, and we were friendly, our hands trembled a little when the cash was handed over. My new friend took the money, and I had the badge suddenly affixed to my lapel and was racing off across Washington Road, past the green bamboo fence, the parking lot, right up to the front gate.
Tens of thousands of people were swarming over this golf course, and pouring through these gates. But my heart pounded as though I was sneaking out of jail in costume. The fact that the name on my badge was an extremely recognizable one did not calm me down. I spotted a familiar face from the Double Eagle walking beside me, a pretty girl named Nancy, one of the black shirters.
"Hey!" I said. "Watcha doing?"
"I’ve got an hour to catch up with some friends," she said.
"Can I walk with you?"
"Sure you can hon, but I’m in a rush."
I made it through the gates with lots of smiles. The badge was scanned. I half expected them to take a finger print. Then we were in.
Nancy was headed to a rendezvous with a group following Ernie Ells. I got the feeling she had once had an affair with his caddie. Or maybe his caddie’s friend. Or maybe Els himself, I couldn’t imagine. But this was her big chance to see them. She had an hour off before she had to get back to the Double Eagle, she told me. She was as on fire as I was, for different reasons. We were a good team.
She made a calculation of where Els was playing now and how far it would take to walk to the next hole, and we headed off in the direction of something called "Amen Corner."
I walked beside her, grateful for the sense of purpose, and she told me about her visit to New York, she had been a model there briefly, on and on. I barely heard her. I was too busy imbibing all that green in one huge gulp; it was like coming upon the ocean for the first time, the feeling of something huge and natural and, in some way, waiting for you all this time. There was so much green stretched out before us, undulating, like waves. The ocean metaphor was heightened by the way the roar of the crowd would drift over the wind from some placer far away on the course. It was the sound of waves crashing farther down on the beach.
The clarity of the air, the novelty of the blue sky after so much rain, the angle of the setting sun, it all made the place feel blessed. Crowds moved across the landscape like white shoed Bedouins, looking for Mecca.
I wondered where they sold the Pimento and cheese sandwiches.
We got a little lost, but I didn’t mind. Few people on that expanse of green were thinking less about Golf than Nancy and I, she a little underdressed in her black Double Eagle Golf shiurt, me a little overdressed my blue blazer. Yet there was not a pair more grateful to be walking the grounds. The fans were so amiable, so helpful as they paused in response to nancy’s exhuberent, “Excuse me!” They all stared at little course map which she held in her gorgeously long fingers, and tried to help us find out way. I thought of Ira’s remarks back at the Double Eagle, not the money part, but the self selecting part, the club part, the our kind of people part. In truth, it felt nice to be inside.
We caught up to Els on the 14th Hole, where we got to watch him T-off. It was late afternoon now, nearly five O’clock, and Els was hanging on to a one over Par that still had him in the running. He is a large man, thick through the shoulders and torso, but not fat. The gallery was crowded, but not so crowded that Nancy and I couldn’t find our way to a spot just a few yards from the T. Everything quieted down as Els planted his feet and got ready to drive. It was curious to be so close to him; one could almost feel the sigh he took his swing.
And then came the swing. More than any other sport, Golf is about process. Process is a word one often hears in the context of, say, art or writing, but here the process is the swing and all that leads up to it.
Els brought the club back. It paused as it reached behind him like a back scratcher, his torso twisted, the galley’s breath held, and then he brought it back around in more or less one smooth motion. The swing – a subject of endless obsession and anxiety for golfers – is the moment of least control for the Golfer. Once you instigate it, each swing is its own journey, prone to mishaps, a fingerprint of body language which, no matter how hard one tries, is very hard to duplicate exactly.
Else whacked the ball and we all stared up into the blue to find the little white dot.
To judge from Els’ demeanor, and the demeanor of his caddy (who Nancy was waving to, discretely, a polite little hand gesture but filled with just enough eagerness and anxiety to be a bit heartbreaking) and the little gasped breath from the crowd, it seemed to be a good shot. It was hard to tell. Els peered down the course with the sort of expression people have when someone is waving at them who they do not recognize. The whole group of us trundled off, in Bedouin mode again, moving down the slope.
The golfers have the privileged position in this walk. They move on the fairway, the grass underfoot, surrounded by space. The galley moves in an animal pack. On this particular day, Saturday, after a week of rain, the course was quite muddy. Everyone’s shoes were splattered and there was a nearly athletic challenge getting around without slipping and falling into the slop. It accentuated the difference between Els, his caddy, all the golfers, and the spectators, but it also accentuated the similarity: we were all privileged to partake in the simple pleasure of nature, albeit the highly controlled manicured version of nature on display in a Golf course. And here we were at Magic Hour at the most famously beautiful golf course of them all. The mud on our shoes wasn’t a burden. It was a souvenir!
I stuck around long enough for Nancy to find her group who were a group of ruddy South Africans, friends of Els. Each of them was a bit thick, tough, strong Boer stock, like Els. I watched as Nancy greeted and was greeted by these men. Hugs and pats and kisses on the cheek, her long hands lingering on their shoulders, their burly, sandy haired arms wrapping around her waist. Els made a good put, the crowd cheered, and one of the men called out, in a thick Boer accent, "Cut the Jacket!" meaning the green jacket, the winners jacket. Everyone laughed. Nancy seemed delighted. Please, I thought, please don’t sleep with any of these guys. But this was none my business. I made a discrete farewell to my guide and wandered off on my own.
I went straight for the sandwich hut. Lemonade, pink and white, for a dollar, and sandwiches, each wrapped in green plastic. I bought two Pimento and Cheese. One went in my pocket, a souvenir. On my way out of the club, lingering in the sunset, still mulling over the site of Tiger Woods missing a crucial put, how alone and magnificent he looked in his despair out there on the green, how wonderful it was that he was so good, so loved, and – can we get a collective holy shit here please – black! I passed a female security guard who was giving direction to a man. He thanked her loudly and added, "You’re a good man!"
She turned around, pink cheeked, a little shocked, and saw me standing there, having witnessed the exchange. Her eyes bulged and met mine. After a moment, we both burst out laughing.
I wandered and wandered.
Saving the extra sandwich was an irrational act, I see looking back. What are you going to do with a Pimento and Cheese Sandwich? Freeze it? Frame it? It went in my pocket, and later on my hotel housekeeper disposed of it, mistaking it for trash, or perhaps recognizing it as such.
The one I ate, however, was thoroughly delightful.
On Saturday night, I headed downtown. It was my only night in Augusta not spent in the company of the boys in blue blazers. I wandered around, gravitated to a building with thunderously loud music, and was told by two police officers that this was a club for underage kids and I would be better off on the main drag where al the tittie bars were, as they put it. I wandered into a strip club.
Inside it was dark, neon lit, jam packed with golf fans, naked women grinding and gyrating on tables and on a stage, everywhere the lurid colors of red and blue washing over naked flesh, the bright lit up faces of drunk men waving cash. It was an orgy. I was impressed. By impressed I mean there was no mediation. It was homey. It wasn’t fake, I mean the breasts weren’t fake and the looks on the men’s faces were wild and completely delighted. No one was taking anything for granted. For the second time that day I felt I had arrived at the center of the universe.
After a while I gravitated to a man and a rather heavy woman sitting somewhat bashfully in the corner. They were married couple here to see the woman’s cousin, who was performing under the name Sexy Shorty.
I bought them a round and we chatted. When the cousin came on stage I said, "She doesn’t seem that short."
"Oh she is," she said.
I went up and gave her a tip and said, "Your cousin says Hi!" and Sexy Short did some lewd things that made the guys around me jealous. Then I went back to the couple. He drove a delivery truck. She was raising two kids, but dabbled in photography, and under her hand was a portfolio she had put together of pictures of her cousin. She showed it to me, a kind of stripper’s face book (except with more than her face), and I complimented her on it.
The whole thing was sweet and absurd as we sat amidst guy who were peeling off twenties for lap dances and hooting and hollering.
I flashed to a scene from the previous day, in the pink sitting room of the Victorian house, where Martha was doing press. A tiny corkscrew of a man lingered for hours taking notes. It turns out he was an interloper, a reporter from Sports Illustrated named Alan Shipnuck who was not scheduled to interview Martha, but was taking notes for a book on L’affiar Martha/Hootie. Shipnuck was eventually bounced out of the house. The whole time he was there he was quiet and poker faced, scribbling away in a manner that made me see, in some strange moment, how the very act of note taking can seem nefarious. Eventually he was ejected from the premises, or shooed away, really, but not before he joined in with a bunch of journalists shooting baskets in the driveway, during which he had his one moment of emoting. What got him going was the ladies posing on Todd Manzi’s web site, those Stepford wife looking girls in the "Burk Stops Here" gold shirts, standing around on a golf course somewhere in Florida.
"I knew it! I knew it!" he shouted, exultant.
He had just been told that these girls had been hired from Hooters.
For some reason I found this reaction annoying. In truth I was vaguely annoyed by the entire culture of sports journalism I encountered, and assumed Shipnuck to be part Golf World’s insular, frat-boy vibe (In fact Shipnuck has written an extremely well reported book on the whole matter, “The Battle for Augusta National : Hootie, Martha, and the Masters of the Universe” published in April, 2004, by Simon and Schuster) In the face of Shipnuck’s exultancy I felt a twang of moral indignation, a small moment of cheap piety. .
But who was I to feel pious about anything regarding Hooters Waitresses! I was sitting in the smoky dim light of a strip club with girls grinding their bare crotch into the faces of paying customers, shaking their lovely breasts, performing acts of stunning agility on six inch platform shoes. They teetered on tiny café tables with their faces contorted in smiles or curiously, contemptuously impassive in the dim light while men with dollar bills clutched in their grubby hands stood around them and brayed, screamed, moaned, leered, or stared in spooky drunken silence as though at a miracle.
I wasn’t here as a reporter. Why pretend journalistic distance? I was here to see to some naked girls and take in the spectacle of guys letting it all hang out, while their face was pummeled with a pair of breasts. Some of the guys wore shirts with the Master’s logo, that little yellow United States with a t-cup where Augusta is and red flag rising out of it, but this didn’t seem like any great irony. I did enjoy the site of a man – blond, prosperous, in khaki pants, a Masters shirt, and brown tasseled loafers with no socks – insisting on buying his friend a lap dance. This guy was slightly effeminate, and the bare ankles and tasseled loafers seemed obscene and true. I looked at it like an art director, like it was an ad for a shoe company. "At work and at play…" something like that.
Sitting in the strip club in my last night in Augusta, I thought back to that peaceful afternoon after the rally, when all the ladies congregated over the vegetarian chili and talked. If they could see me now, what would they think? Can you be a feminist in a strip club? I went over the faces from that gathering, and tallied who would condemn me outright, who would react with disgust, and who might cut me some slack for being there. Frankly, it broke down pretty much by age. The younger ones, I thought, might forgive. the older ones would be disgusted. The one wild card, whose opinion I couldn’t be sure of, was Martha Burk.
Eventually Sexy Shorty came by to look at her portfolio and have a smoke. She sat very upright, her midriff showing, and when we shook hands she affected a bashfulness that was mixed with a nearly regal reticence. Then she watched her gigantic cousin turn the pages of the book, each page featuring a picture of her in a pose. Their faces looked down at the photographs with pride. Her nails were very long. I bought one more round. But I felt as though I was intruding on a family get together, in which photographs from a holiday or an album were being shared. I headed back to the hotel through the genteel, sleepy downtown of Augusta, were the only activity was men staggering into or out of bars, mostly strip clubs as far as I could tell.
The next day, Sunday, was the climax of the tournament, but for me it was a wind down. Martha didn’t even spend Saturday night. Purely for a taste of atmosphere, and maybe the buffet, I headed over to the Double Eagle, which had been such a gracious host on my visit to golf world.
While I ate my fresh fruit and drank my orange juice, I overheard some conversation from the next table, someone prattling on about Yale and how she met her husband. Some well dressed women and men were sitting there under the umbrella.
"And then funny thing," said a woman’s voice, "is that Charlie is a descendant of the people who came over on the Mayflower. And so our kids, if you think about it, they’re probably the only Jewish descendants of the pilgrims! But my sister doesn’t even think that’s good. When I pointed it out to her she said, ‘All the people on the Mayflower were criminals!’"
It turns out that Charlie, the Mayflower descendant, was the owner of the Double Eagle. Salt and pepper hair, and blue sweater vest over his golf shirt, a hawkish, faintly annoyed air about him, as though he has a short fuse, he sat over his fruit salad chewing distractedly while he wife told stories about him. This same short fuse look had lurked beneath the surface of all the yellow shirted guys roaming the Double Eagle. I now saw where they got their inspiration.
IMG, his sports marketing company, sets up these corporate hospitality type things for many of the major sporting events, the Kentucky Derby, the final four, and the Super Bowl among them. But, Charlie said, "It all started with Augusta National." He met someone at the club, and with the club’s blessing he arranged for the Double Eagle to sprout up, once a year, across the street from the club.
"How did it come about? The introduction to the club?" I asked.
"I was introduced to the right people," said Charlie.
My next stop was a visit to with Gary Bogdon, a sports illustrated photographer who was staying in a huge house in a gated community just outside of town. Bogdon had been at the Super 8 when Martha first arrived, we had made friends, and that evening had ended with a visit to the house where he and some other sports illustrated people were staying.
It was a manor house, with a two-story living room, and a lot of dark leather furniture and a giant TV. Apparently a good number of houses on this scale get rented out for the Masters. The family who lived there were a young couple with two children who were very attractive and clean cut. I know this because they had a large family photograph framed in the hall, everyone wearing white, on the beach, at sunset.
Now I was coming by for a good-bye to Gary. He was an athletic, scrappy guy who wore a vest with a lot of pockets and seemed to be as well suited for war photography as for the freelance sports work he did. I kicked back on the sofa and had a soda and watched television, while Gary called around to local airports looking for a plane. His plan was to rent a crop duster and pilot, and then to fly over the eighteenth hole that afternoon, taking an Arial shot.
“All that green surrounded by all those people, and in the middle of the green, twenty feet from the hole, Tiger Woods stands there with his arms in the air! He just won it all!”
He leapt up to his feet arms in the air, as though it was he who had just won it all.
I could imagine it. It was a pretty picture. But I was already gone, and it meant nothing to me. Gary was here for Golf; I was here for something else. I didn’t know what. I liked Gary. He had confided in me that he thought Martha had a point, but he said it in such a surreptitious way, as though he felt, probably correctly, that announcing that sort of opinion was not going to do great things for the work slate of a freelance photographer whose work often showed up in Sports Illustrated and USA today. We sat around, me zoned out, Gary making calls. I raided the family fridge for popsicles. Then I said my good-bye, and walked out of the huge house onto a street with similar houses, finding my way out towards the gate past more huge houses of a similar nature. It hardly bears mentioning that there was, at the center of this community, a nine hole Golf course.
I drove back to Atlanta in the PT cruiser with the sun in my eyes. I fooled around with the radio and came across the Masters being broadcast. I left it there.
At a certain point Gary called me from his cell phone.
“Hey you listening?” he said.
I told him I was.
“Me too!” He was calling from his car. He had given up on the plane an hour after I left. And was about to set off on another Highway, headed to his home in Orlando. It seemed a very postmodern goodbye. He had been there in the local news studio, with the married in the morning set, and that frightening woman who had began blurting out her lines like a preprogrammed android. I felt sad to say goodbye to Gary, sadder on the phone than I had been in person. We promised to stay in touch.
I had a couple of social events planned for Atlanta. Dinner with an old friend, and, before that, a visit with the girl to whom I had lost my virginity. She was married now, with a baby, and I was going to pay an afternoon visit. I tried to focus on her, wonder what she was like now. I remembered certain vivid scenes. And all the while the announcer’s voices murmured their reports of the action, getting more and more staticky and distant. The station began to fade out altogether, disappearing into waves of white noise, but for some reason I kept it on. It wasn’t that I cared about who won, exactly, I just wanted to stay there a bit longer.
I had spoken to Sally on Saturday night. She had been off Friday, and when I saw her Saturday night she chastised me lightly for not having been around at the end of her shift Thursday.
“But it was all right, I don’t think the place was ready for company,” she said. I told her I was sorry not to meet her boyfriend. And then I asked her why she had so many pit bulls.
“My boyfriend had about four of them, but then his brother got shot,” she said. “And so he inherited his six. So we have ten. And their all adorable.”
I let the word inherited speak for itself, and didn’t ask her anymore about it.
The sun continued to set and I drove on towards Atlanta and the voices of the golf announcers were almost gone now, there was some kind of country station edging its way into the mix, everything jumbled, but I kept the radio where it was until I heard their voices rise in excitement and jubilation, the sounds of the crowd cheering and clapping behind them. Someone had won, though I had no idea who.