Former Masters, Augusta Chair Hootie Johnson Dies, Leaving Complicated Legacy
Former Masters Tournament Chair & Augusta National Golf Club Chair HOOTIE JOHNSON "died Friday morning" at 86, according to John Boyette of the AUGUSTA CHRONICLE. During his tenure, 14 of the 18 holes were "altered as Augusta National led the charge against advances in golf ball and club technology." Johnson also "modified the qualifications for invitation to the tournament, initiated 18-hole television coverage and began the practice of announcing the club’s donations to charity." But it was his response to National Council of Women's Organizations Chair MARTHA BURK that "thrust him into the national spotlight" in the summer of '02. Burk "challenged Augusta National’s all-male membership, and Johnson responded with a terse, three-paragraph reply and issued a statement to the media that outlined the club’s position." He famously said that the private club would "not change at the 'point of a bayonet.'" Johnson was succeeded in '06 by current Chair BILLY PAYNE, who in '12 "ushered in the club’s first two female members." Payne in a statement said, "He boldly directed numerous course improvements to ensure that Augusta National would always represent the very finest test of golf" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 7/15).
COMPLICATED LEGACY: In Augusta, Scott Michaux wrote Johnson "deserves a warmer legacy." His "deepest impact" was as the man who "oversaw the most sweeping changes in the history of the Masters Tournament to become its most important steward" since founding Chair CLIFFORD ROBERTS. Augusta National’s "most liberal and progressive leader took it upon himself to make some of the toughest decisions on behalf of the tournament’s future in an era of technological advances" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 7/15). ESPN's Paul Finebaum said of Johnson's handling of the Burk protest, "It was a sideshow that Hootie should have avoided. He made a terrible mistake in saying what he did. ... You can't look at Hootie Johnson's career without that in the first line of the obituary. It's sad because he was a great man and he did a lot, but that's what he is being remembered for" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/16). The AP's Doug Ferguson wrote Johnson "stubbornly stood his ground amid pressure for the club to invite female members." He went so far as to "drop the Masters’ television sponsors -- IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup -- to keep them out of the fray." That led to the "first commercial-free broadcast of a sporting event on network television." Burk: "What I have to say, and I thought this for years, is it’s really a shame that he engaged in the Augusta controversy the way he did" (AP, 7/14).