2020 has provided us many opportunities to reflect on implicit bias, to reexamine systemic inequality, and to reconsider offensive terminology. After decades of resistance, the Washington Redskins reluctantly changed their name, to the sarcastic and spiteful Washington Football Team, but at least it is a first step toward acknowledging their hurtful appropriation of Native American culture while using a racial slur.
The topic of addressing the potential name change of one of golf’s most famous tournaments has been raised this year, especially now, as the rescheduled event is taking place in November rather than its usual spot in April. Many claim that “The Masters” refers to the mastery of the game of golf, and not as a reference to the white masters of black slaves. This claim is a bit hard to swallow. The tournament takes place at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, deep in the South. Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones co-founded the club in 1933, with Roberts wanting to name their tournament “The Masters” ostensibly to honor mastery of golf, with Jones rejecting that name, and it was known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament for the first 5 years of existence.
If you choose to accept at face value that “Masters” means “masters of golf”, consider the long history of race-based exclusion throughout the history of golf. The fact that so many golf clubs across the country have “memberships” is a convenient way to apply any exclusionary policy you like. From 1934 to 1961, the Professional Golf Association of America’s “Caucasian-only clause” was a part of the association’s bylaws and prevented nonwhites from membership. Black men were not allowed to compete at The Masters until 1975. Augusta National Golf Club did not have a black member until 1990. They did not allow a female member until 2012, which is not racist, but still exclusionary. Finally, consider the words of Clifford Roberts himself – “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”
As a private club, hosting an invitational tournament, Augusta National can name their tournament whatever they like. If it takes protests and corporate sponsors boycotts to influence their decisions, so be it. I would ask that they consider the plea of President-Elect Joe Biden to “lower the temperature” and try to unite this great country. Changing a golf tournament back to its original name actually honors the “tradition like no other” by turning the focus back onto the course itself. I would argue that “Augusta National” and “Green Jacket” have more brand awareness than a vague word like “Masters” which is also used by tennis, chess, track, fishing and other sports. Let’s put the focus back on the spectacular golf course, and the tradition of the green jacket, and away from an inflammatory word that still cuts deep, especially in the South.