A women’s Masters will never happen but Augusta National can help the LPGA in another way

April 14, 2019

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur was a welcome and rightly ballyhooed addition to the televised women’s-sports roster. The impressive golf, competitive grit and heart-warming sportsmanship on display cast a warm glow over the final round’s action that lasted well beyond the event’s conclusion. The reception was so positive that — as with most good things — we simply aren’t satisfied by a single serving. We need more.

It didn’t take long for Alison Lee — a former No. 1-ranked amateur and now a professional in her fifth year on the LPGA Tour — to ask the question on everyone’s mind. “Sooooo when do we get to play Augusta?” she tweeted, tagging the social handles of both the Masters and the LPGA.

When, indeed. Unfortunately for Lee and her fellow professionals, if Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley’s pre-Masters press conference is any indication of the club’s line of thinking — specifically, his proclamation that the Masters is “the epicenter of our competitive tournament administration efforts” and “we do have some limitations as to what we could do” — it will be a while yet before the best female players in the world get a taste of what their amateur contemporaries experienced just days ago. That’s a shame.

The idea of staging a professional women’s tournament on golf’s grandest stage isn’t a new one. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan has an annual audience with the Augusta National powers-that-be, and bringing a professional event to fruition has been an item on his agenda for years. “All you can do is ask,” Whan once told me. “I’ll keep asking. I consider Augusta National one of the greatest golf platforms in the world. It would be great to see the best female golfers in the world walking up 18 and putting out to see who can win there.”

The fact that that actually happened — albeit to relatively unknown amateurs as opposed to big-time LPGA stars like Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko — and that it all transpired during the weekend of the LPGA’s first major championship of the year, the ANA Inspiration, must have felt like a gut-punch to Whan and his team. But he chose to focus on the positives.

“I didn’t like the conflict with my event, but I said to a lot of players this week, that most revolutions are evolutions,” Whan said at the ANA Inspiration. “In my mind, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is an evolution, not a revolution. Maybe in time, it will be the revolution I want it to be.”

It was a special moment when LPGA legends Annika Sorenstam (pictured), Lorena Ochoa, Nancy Lopez and Se Ri Pak hit the honorary opening tee shots at the ANWA.
USA Today Sports

Some observers chafe at the idea that Augusta National should feel obligated to host a professional tournament for women. After all, it isn’t the club’s job to be the game’s beacon of inclusivity. As a private organization, they’re well within their rights to do as they please. But, in recent years especially, the club has positioned itself as not just the home of the Masters, but also as a steward of the game’s growth and development.

From welcoming women into the membership to founding global amateur championships in Asia and Latin America and championing junior golf initiatives like Drive, Chip & Putt, Augusta National has made its commitment to growing the game a huge part of its global identity. That’s why the decision to ignore the LPGA — and its distinctly international reach and appeal — is both puzzling and disappointing.

Ridley defended the club’s decision to exclude female professionals by pointing to ANGC’s deep roots in amateur golf that were seeded by club co-founder Bobby Jones. “To date, all of our grow‑the‑game initiatives have been focused on amateur golf and amateur golfers,” Ridley said. “By promoting women amateurs, the future stars of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, we’d like to think that that is something that’s going to benefit them, as well, and I think that the LPGA would agree. So that’s the track we are going to continue to take.”

While that outcome remains to be seen, questions around the likelihood of professional women competing at Augusta National are not going to go away. If anything, they’ll be amplified by the addition of the ANWA.

With five major championships already on the schedule, the LPGA doesn’t need to add another. Nor is it realistic to expect Augusta to establish an annual event for the LPGA. But why not meet in the middle and allow the course to be utilized as a site for a future major? Just one.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has venues scheduled through 2027, and the host courses include historic sites like Hazeltine, Congressional and Baltusrol. Why not add Augusta National to the list? The event is generally contested in late June, so it would not conflict with the Masters. The date also falls after the club traditionally closes for the members’ playing season.

The move would extend an infinite amount of goodwill to the professional women who feel overlooked by the advent of the ANWA, and the ripple effect of the announcement would be completely transformative: incredible PR for the club (without a recurring obligation) and a decade of anticipation for the LPGA’s professional ranks.

It’s a win-win in every way. That’s the track Chairman Ridley should take.

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