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Sports Column: Golf a game of privilege or of parity?

The Masters has become synonymous with the phrase “a tradition unlike any other,” but part of that tradition includes a shaded past.

Augusta National Golf Club, the annual home of golf’s first major of the year, has hosted some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history. The most recent magic came from deep within in the trees at hole No. 10, where Bubba Watson pulled off a circus shot that reached the green and helped him to an emotional win Sunday afternoon.

From being a rare left-handed golfer to forming part of golf’s only boy band, Watson is not the most-traditional golfer. But by some other measures, he doesn’t buck many trends at all.

Watson is white, grew up in small-town Florida and played golf at the University of Georgia. That seems to be pretty standard for the Masters.

Augusta National is a private golf club that has long been lagging in racial and gender matters. The club did not accept its first black member until 1990, and to this day, no women are allowed to be members at the course. And because it’s a private club, that’s OK — legally speaking.

But this ordeal goes far beyond political correctness. It’s not about making people happy. It’s about recognizing our collective naiveté that one of golf’s most treasured courses has been shrouded in darkness since its creation in 1933.

For decades, all of the club’s caddies were black — by ordinance, not coincidence. The line between the competitors and the bag-bearers was skin-deep, and yet so much deeper. Segregation has a clear cause, but the effects last much longer than the policy.

Golf has always been a game of the privileged, and Augusta National did not help that much at all. The “rich man’s game” was only a white man’s game for decades at America’s most recognizable golf course. Even with the racial barrier to membership officially lifted, economic disparity has kept many minorities from hitting the links, or even from gaining interest in the sport.

Tiger Woods, of African-American, Chinese, Thai and Native American descent, is the obvious exception to the trend, as he has won 14 major championships and four Masters Tournaments with white caddies. He has championed efforts to get inner-city children into golf, but one man’s efforts go only so far.

Perhaps one club’s policies have little impact on the sport’s status as a whole. But Augusta National is a microcosm of racial and gender-based discrimination that lingers well into the 21st century. It represents the glass ceiling that hinders minorities and women from gaining equal footing on the golf course and in other areas of life.

Augusta National only admitted its first black members after the Professional Golfers’ Association pressured an Alabama golf course to admit minorities before it could host the PGA Championship. The Masters is played at the same course every year and has never faced the threat of relocation.    

But since it’s “a tradition unlike any other,” we seem to be OK with that.

Michael Stainbrook is a junior studying journalism and sports editor of The Post. Do you think golf is subtly racist? Let him know at

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