New Mexican activist looks back on battle with Augusta Golf Club

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A New Mexico woman helped create change at the golf club that holds the Masters – one of the major championships.

Martha Burk sparked controversy 20 years ago when she fought for women’s equality at the club. She’s lived in New Mexico since 2006. 

“And we always used to say in our lifetime, in our lifetime,” said Burk. 

Change in a lifetime is something Burk sparked nearly 20 years ago against the private Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters are hosted.  

Change is what prompted Burk to send a letter to the former club’s chairman — Hootie Johnson.

“It was a very important letter, it was a private letter. I did not intend to start a national media firestorm of golf,” said Burk. 

A letter sparked from confusion in a meeting where Burk sat as the chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations in 2002.

“I didn’t know anything about the Augusta National. I asked my board very casually, we were just packing up to go at the end of a board meeting. I said, ‘Oh, I heard about this golf club that doesn’t let in women, they’re pretty prominent, why don’t we write him a letter?’ And everybody said ‘Fine, write them a letter, no big deal,’” Burk said. 

Hootie Johnson was not a fan of Burk’s letter which called for timely change with a deadline.     

“They went ballistic,” said Burk. 

Johnson responded in a public statement saying:

“We will not be bullied, threatened or intimidated. There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.” 

Augusta National dates back to the 1930s. The first two women were admitted to the club in 2012. Former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice was one of them.

After protesting during the 2003 Masters near the course, Burk started to solidify her legacy even more as an activist.  

Now, the battle is a little bigger than what happens on a golf course.

“Augusta National is far more than a golf club. It’s a meeting place for the CEOs of America’s largest corporations,” Burk said. “When you discriminate against women, anywhere, but certainly at that level, it hurts their careers.”

Burk’s called New Mexico home for years, and she’s still connected to Augusta – 1,500 miles away and two decades later. 

But, she hopes people think of more than just golf when they hear her name.

“I want to leave at least a footprint in the sand of history, it may not last, and I certainly don’t want Augusta to be the only thing I am remembered for,” said Burk. 

And the change she’s advocated for? It’s something the 81-year-old activist is still hoping to accomplish in all aspects. 

“Well let’s hope it’s in my lifetime and not your lifetime,” said Burk.