Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Rain can't wash away Martha & Co.

Masters notebook: Judge to decide where protesters can congregate

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. - A federal judge upheld a law that allows the sheriff to regulate protests like the one planned by Martha Burk at Augusta National Golf Club.

Monday's ruling was only a partial victory for city officials, however.

U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. hasn't decided if Sheriff Ronald Strength violated his discretion by denying Burk the right to protest at the front gates of the exclusive club, where the Masters begins Thursday.

Burk is planning to protest Augusta National's all-male membership on Saturday. Aware of the time constraints of the case, Bowen said he would decide the second issue soon.

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on Burk's behalf.

Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations, wants to post 24 demonstrators outside the front gate of Augusta National and 200 more across the street during the Masters' third round.

Strength, who has broad authority over public protests, has told Burk and other groups the only place they can protest legally is a 5.1-acre site nearly a half-mile from the gate.

WAR VS. MARTHA: Scott Hoch was comfortably dry in the locker room, out of the rain that was coming down so hard small rivers were running down the first fairway of Augusta National.

It seemed a perfect time to talk about the controversy over a woman member at the storied course.

Only Hoch wasn't biting.

The few players who hung around the clubhouse chatted about the rain, the course and the war in Iraq. On the big screen in the grill room, CNN was showing images of the war.

"We're thinking and worrying about our people in Iraq," Hoch said. "This is minuscule compared to that. Even the golf tournament is minuscule compared to that."

RAINY DAY IN GEORGIA: Players arrived at Augusta National on Monday morning watching the sky warily yet hoping to get in a practice round. It didn't take long for those hopes to be dashed.

A thunderstorm dumped so much water on the course that players were left to hang around on the front porch or in the locker room waiting in vain for a chance to play.

Fans were never allowed in the gates. About midmorning, tournament officials formally closed the course for the day.

Masters on TV: USA, Thursday and Friday, 4-6:30 p.m.; 9-11:30 p.m.

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