AP Golf Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday the Masters is "too important" for the tour to take it off its official schedule, even though Augusta National has never had a female member in its 80-year history.
"We have concluded a number of times now _ and we have certainly not moved off of this _ that we are not going to give up the Masters as a tournament on our tour," Finchem said. "It's too important. And so at the end of the day, the membership of that club have to determine their membership. They are not doing anything illegal."
Finchem spoke at a news conference that featured The First Tee announcing a new corporate partner. The First Tee tries to attract kids of diverse backgrounds to golf.
The tour policy is not to co-sanction a tournament played on a golf course that does not allow women or minority members. Among the courses it lost when the policy was created included Cypress Point in California and Butler National outside Chicago.
The tour does not run the Masters or any of the other three majors.
"But we just elect to continue to recognize them as an official money event on the PGA Tour because we think it's that important to golf," Finchem said. "We don't get to determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don't have to, because we made the conclusion that regardless of those policies, we are going to continue to play and recognize them as part of the PGA Tour. I know some people don't like that position, and I appreciate that and I understand their reasoning.
"But that's the decision we've made."
The all-male membership at Augusta National first became an issue in the summer of 2002, when Martha Burk challenged then-club chairman Hootie Johnson to invite a female member. Johnson and the club held its ground, even cutting loose its TV sponsors for two years to keep them out of the fray.
It resurfaced this year because Virginia Rometty took over as chief executive of IBM, the first female CEO in the 100-year history of Big Blue. IBM is one of the corporate sponsors of the Masters, and the previous four CEOs of the company were invited to join.
Rometty was at the Masters for the final round, wearing a pink jacket.
Finchem was challenged in 2002 to back the tour's anti-discriminatory policy by not counting the Masters as an official win, or counting the earnings toward the money list. He declined then, and stood by his position when it was brought up on the eve of The Players Championship.
He said it was not a position of saying the Masters was more important than gender equity.
"What we're saying is, that goes back to what we were asked to do a few years ago," Finchem said. "We were asked publicly, `Why wouldn't we disengage recognizing the Masters as part of the PGA Tour?' At that time, we said we would not do that. I'm just saying our position on that hasn't changed."
Finchem said because the tour does not have a contract with the Masters, it has no leverage to enforce tour policies.
"We can choose to recognize them or not," Finchem said. "We feel like it is overly important for us as a sport that that tournament, which is so important to the history of the game, continue to be part of the PGA Tour. So we made that decision."
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