News & Opinion

Should Masters change its name?

The Masters flag
The Masters Tournament at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club

In light of the equality movement in the U.S., one national columnist objects to the name's connotation, irrespective of the history of the tournament and why it became known as the Masters. Nonetheless, a return to the original Augusta National Invitation Tournament name would be a good step

Should Augusta National Golf Club change the name of the Masters Tournament?

That was a question answered definitively by Rob Parker last week in an article on Deadspin.com.

The commentary might have been lost amongst all the other COVID-19 news at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship. So, I thought that I would pose the question now to our golf audience while acknowledging that I am not qualified to answer it.

In 1934, when the first professional tournament was held at Augusta National in Georgia, the event was titled the Augusta National Invitation Tournament. The name remained for five years.

Clifford Roberts, who with the legendary Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National, thought that the tournament name should be changed to reflect the quality of the field, generally regarded as the best in professional golf every year. Roberts proposed the name Masters, as in the “masters of golf."

It took Roberts most of those first five years to convince Jones that the change made sense.

Now, to explain why I’m not qualified to answer the question.

According to my daughter, who is an attorney in Washington, I’m likely a racist, even though I don’t think I am. Like so many other 62-year-old white American males, I don’t believe that I hold racist views or tendencies. Unfortunately for me and many of my fellow white males, we don’t really understand racism and racist tendencies.

Though we might not believe that we are racist, the national discussion in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis has shined a light on racism and reinforced for many white Americans that we do, in fact, have an issue.

It’s rarely overt, but we do struggle to understand race in this country, mainly because I and many of my golfing brethren are privileged white males. The topic simply is not something that we spend time discussing.

While that doesn’t make me a bad person, being disaffected clearly is inappropriate and upsetting that I, like most of my golf colleagues, long have ignored race in this country.

Many of us were raised in predominately white neighborhoods, and interactions with black or brown people were not part of our daily routine.

Most blacks I saw as a kid were in news footage of the Vietnam War, which Black America was helping fight in a military conflict that we now know was unnecessary.

My life of private high school and private university also was defined by white privilege, with black athletes interspersed in a predominantly white student body.

I can assure you that I didn’t think about my white privilege or the lives that those black athletes were experiencing, at school or at home. The topic of race simply wasn’t discussed.

I was involved in athletics, so I had black friends who were athletes, but that fact doesn’t make me an expert on the issues facing black Americans then or now.

So, regarding Parker’s Deadspin commentary, which was headlined, “We’ve lived with ‘The Masters’ name long enough”: Do I, as a white male, think that the Masters Tournament name is racist? No. But as I’ve outlined, my background skews that opinion.

I can’t speak to what it’s like to be black in this country. Just because I am not offended by the name Masters, that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive to black Americans.

The word masters brings back an incredibly disturbing history to all blacks in this country, and at the base level is synonymous with being ruled. I don’t need to look any further in the dictionary to understand how the phrase could be objectionable to black Americans, with the history of slavery in the U.S.

Race issues in golf are different than with the four major professional team sports: NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL. Pro basketball, football and baseball employ a large number of black and brown players, but hockey remains predominantly white.

It would be easy to say that because we see a large number of black players on the football field or basketball court that racism is not part of those sports, but the management of many teams remains mainly white. It’s an issue that has been discussed within the leagues but has been slow to change.

From 1934 to 1961, the PGA of America's "Caucasian-only clause" was a part of the association's bylaws and prevented nonwhites from membership. The clause was removed at the 1961 PGA annual meeting, after a persistent campaign by black golfer Charlie Sifford. In 1969, the touring professionals split from the PGA of America, forming what today is known as the PGA Tour.

At any level of professional golf, it is difficult to find a black or brown person in management or on a board of directors. Golf is a traditionally white sport, with a history of racial segregation. In recent decades, any formal limitations to black participation have given way to a systemic racism in the game.

Even when we attempt to create spots in tournament fields for black or brown golfers, those well-intended actions often are more of a token than anything else.

The PGA Tour could do so much more to promote inclusion, but its leadership has lacked the wherewithal.

So, back to the Masters, which was postponed from early April until Nov. 12-15 this year because of coronavirus. The tournament is part of the PGA Tour schedule but run by the host club. Yes, the name should be discussed, but not by the privileged white males.

The tournament has become one of the most important events on the annual golf calendar. A return to its original name strikes me as a small step to stand in support of black Americans.

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