Burk, who runs the National Council of Women's Organizations, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition that includes the Feminist Majority, the YWCA and the League of Women Voters, was uniquely qualified to keep her promise. In June she wrote Augusta's president, William "Hootie" Johnson—the nickname came from a childhood playmate—urging him to correct a "basic kind of injustice." Johnson responded with a blistering statement to the media. "We will not be bullied," he said. "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership but...not at the point of a bayonet."
Months after those opening salvos, the venerable Georgia club—whose 300-odd members include former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, ex-Secretary of State George Shultz and Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett—remains caught in an uncomfortably public battle of the sexes. After Burk launched a letter-writing campaign, encouraging members to press for change and asking Masters sponsors Citigroup, IBM and Coca-Cola not to "underwrite discrimination," Johnson countered by dropping commercial sponsors altogether. The result is a bonus for golf fans: Next year CBS will air the Masters with no ads.
Johnson appears immune to public pressure. On Nov. 4 he gave a battery of interviews in which he vehemently defended Augusta's right to remain all-male. "Ms. Burk has nothing to do with this club," he told The New York Times. "If we discriminate, do the Girl Scouts discriminate? Do the Boy Scouts discriminate?...Single-gender organizations are good, and part of the fabric of America."
But Burk, who dismissed Johnson's comparison of Augusta with the Boy Scouts as a "silly argument," says the debate "taps into women's frustration about [issues such as] the pay gap and the glass ceiling." She has threatened to lead pickets outside the club's 365 acres of lushly landscaped grounds. Augusta "just got a tiger by the tail," says a friend of Burk's, D.C. radio host Barbara Reynolds.
As it happens, Burk has something in common with her nemesis: As a child in suburban Houston, the daughter of Ivan, an oil company engineer, and Dorothy, a clothing store owner, she was called Hootie by her younger brothers, who couldn't pronounce her real name. She earned straight A's in school, attending the University of Houston at 16.
In 1960, while still in college, Burk wed pharmacist Ed Talley. She later gave birth to sons Ed, now 40, and Mark, 37. Once the boys were in school she hit the books too—earning a master's in psychology and computer science and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology. But when Burk looked for university teaching jobs, she says, she ran into sexism. "The first faculty job I went to interview for, I was given a typing test," she says. In 1980 Burk created a successful series of educational software programs that gave her financial independence and allowed her to devote herself to feminist causes. She and Talley divorced in 1985, and Burk moved to Washington after marrying Ralph Estes, 66, who now runs Stakeholder Alliance, a corporate-accountability advocacy group, the following year. "Hootie Johnson is up against a very tough, very smart and very committed adversary," says Estes. "There's one person I don't want mad at me—that's her."
By all accounts, Johnson, 71, is also a fighter. And his politics aren't predictably conservative: A former bank president and civil rights crusader, he helped desegregate South Carolina's state university system in the '60s while serving on an education commission. "He's not a redneck," says a colleague. "He just doesn't want to be intimidated by some outside group." Several famous golfers have defended Augusta, one of many U.S. golf clubs with all-male memberships. "Do I want to see a female member? Yes," said Tiger Woods, who has urged the warring Hooties to settle their differences privately.
Not if Burk has anything to say about it. "It's important to fight discrimination wherever we find it, whether it's in the boardroom, on the factory floor or the golf course," she says. "Augusta is a symbol of a larger struggle."
J.Todd Foster in Washington, D.C., and Steve Helling in Augusta
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