2019 Masters

Women's Masters to the fore? Not for Augusta National

Thai golfer Kiradech Aphibarnrat (centre) teeing it up at the ninth with his Par 3 Contest caddies, Ladies Professional Golf Association stars Ariya (right) and Moriya Jutanugarn. He was "one-upped", with the Masters account tweeting a video as world
Thai golfer Kiradech Aphibarnrat (centre) teeing it up at the ninth with his Par 3 Contest caddies, Ladies Professional Golf Association stars Ariya (right) and Moriya Jutanugarn. He was "one-upped", with the Masters account tweeting a video as world No. 3 Ariya went closest with her tee shot and both sisters made birdie.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Augusta National may have held its inaugural National Women's Amateur event last week, breaking new ground at a golf club that admitted its first female members only in 2012, but that is as far as the organisers are willing to go.

Throwing cold water on the idea of one day hosting a women's Masters alongside the men's Major, chairman Fred Ridley insisted at his annual address they had no plans to take a further step.

The American said on Wednesday: "To date, all of our grow-the-game initiatives have been focused on amateur golf and amateur golfers. In this particular case, we elected to conduct a women's amateur tournament for really that same reason, but we really wanted this to continue in a grow-the-game sort of mode.

"As to what we might do next, I'm still thinking about last Saturday, so I'll start thinking about that next week."

For many, the next logical step is to organise a women's Masters, but the Augusta's membership is lukewarm towards that idea.

While Augusta National is best known as the home of the Masters, Ridley believes the club is better serving the amateur roots of co-founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones.

He said: "Part of that kind of goes back to history and that is that Augusta National was founded, co-founded by the greatest amateur of all time."

Since opening its doors to women members, the club, which was founded in 1933, has made efforts to develop women's golf, but some remain frustrated by what they see as the painfully slow pace of change.

Asked if its failure to confront its restrictive policies had stunted the growth of the women's game, Ridley admitted that "they could have done better".

He added: "My focus is on the future. We learn from the past. But what is most productive is to look at where we are today, realise that throughout the history of this club, we have promoted the game.

"And we have now identified a really important segment, the fastest growing segment that we can help make a difference."

His comments will be a disappointment for the Jutanugarn sisters, former world No. 1 Ariya and the 22nd-ranked Moriya.

The duo, who caddied for fellow Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the Par 3 Contest won by England's Matt Wallace on Wednesday, admitted they were "really jealous" of the men, who are striding Augusta's famous fairways in competition this week.

World No. 3 Ariya said: "We want to play it. I thought one time in my life I would really like to play here."

REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2019, with the headline 'Women's Masters to the fore? Not for Augusta'. Print Edition | Subscribe