American Express Publishing Corp. is about to tee off with a lavish new magazine. Next month, the Manhattan publisher will debut Travel & Leisure Golf, an upscale, lifestyle-oriented entry geared to affluent men.
In 1962, during the tenure of Governor Ernest (Fritz) Hollings, the state had registered its hesitation about the dawning civil-rights movement by raising the Confederate battle flag over the statehouse, in Columbia. That decision became an issue in the 2000 Presidential campaign, bringing threats of boycotts. Johnson pushed hard for the removal of the flag, and was credited with helping to shape the compromise that did so. “The fact is, slavery was wrong, which was why we had the war,” Johnson says, explaining his position on the flag. “Pure and simple. It was wrong.”
Johnson came of age at a time when his state, like much of the American South, had not yet emerged from its long benightedness. In 1948, when Hootie Johnson was a star running back at Greenwood High School, the big news in town was coming from the governor’s mansion, where Strom Thurmond was making his segregationist Presidential run on the breakaway Democratic States’ Rights Party ticket. The year before, the state had attracted national attention when thirty-one white men were tried and acquitted in the lynching of a black man named Willie Earle; what was considered remarkable at the time was that the white men had been arrested and tried at all. Politically, South Carolina was a one-party state, and Democrats did not allow blacks to participate in the Party’s primary elections until ordered to do so by a judge.
Wyman went down to Augusta whenever he could, and, when his three boys were grown and in business themselves, he brought them, too. Wyman deeply admired the club’s management style–autocracy worked. “If you have the right person in such a job, it really works beautifully, in terms of admissions, in terms of how the club is run,” he told me. “If you think about it, if you could eliminate half the committees that you know in your life, the world would be a better place. It would work better.”
The confirmation battles over Bork and Thomas introduced into politics a new strategy–that of attaching to the opponent such opprobrium that neutral parties, or even those favorably disposed to the subject, come to recognize a position of opposition as being the safest course. In the past six months, the Augusta National Golf Club has been subjected to a “Borking” of the first order, its reputation cascading so steeply and so swiftly that the tacticians in a conservative Republican Administration now deem membership in the club a taboo. This unexpected new litmus test (Ari Fleischer’s objections notwithstanding) can only be attributed to Martha Burk’s campaign; just a year earlier, William S. Farish, a member of Augusta, was nominated and confirmed as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s without a hint of concern over his golf-club membership.
In early winter, the course at the Augusta National Golf Club bears a faint promise of the Oz-like spectacle of magnolias, azaleas, and piercing green rye that it will become in April, when the club conducts its annual Masters tournament. In December, the Bermuda on the fairways is going dormant and brown, creating a seed base for the rye that was planted in the fall; the azaleas are sleeping, and the East Georgia weather can be gray and raw. It was on such a day that I visited the club this winter, and, except for a foursome efficiently making its way to the green at No. 9, there was scarcely a golfer in sight. One of the charms of membership at Augusta National is that, during the season, from October until the end of May, the grand old course is always available for play. The club, which is a hundred and forty miles east of Atlanta, has some three hundred members, and, as most of them reside elsewhere (a third of them live in the New York area, California, and Florida), there is never any difficulty securing a tee time. In fact, there are no tee times at Augusta National, as such; players stroll from the clubhouse to the first tee, as they wish. “There’s never anybody there,” a New York member told me. “It’s perfect.”