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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 22 2012

Schnepf: Augusta continues to live in its own world

Fargo - I’ve never been to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. But those who have say it’s a different world – immaculate greens, colorful azaleas, towering loblolly pines and fairways that look like a recently vacuumed living room carpet.

As Fargo Country Club professional Mark Johnson put it: “They live in their own little world.”

That partly explains why this 80-year-old, exclusive, private club has been living in a fantasy. It used to have a policy that all caddies be black. Until 1990, it did not allow black members.

And until Monday, it did not allow female members. This week’s announcement was trumpeted as long overdue, historic, stunning and a victory for women golfers.

But it’s far from a milestone – especially if you believe the sentiment that the good old boys at Augusta made this decision for purely financial reasons. Sponsorships for the glorious Masters tournament are at stake – funding from corporations that, lo and behold, have women making decisions.

So is Monday’s announcement really that much to celebrate?

Lisa Schwinden, the club pro at Fargo’s Osgood Golf Course, doesn’t think so. She goes so far to say that she would politely say, “No thank you”, if she were asked to be a member of Augusta.

Never mind that she would have to fork out $30,000 for a membership.

“We’re at the point now that it’s really hard to get excited … it’s 2012, it’s not like it’s the ’50s,” Schwinden said. “Don’t people have open minds now? If anything, it’s kind of disappointing that it has taken this long.”

Of course, as much as we would like to think we are far removed from the 1950s way of thinking, Schwinden knows all too well the stereotypes that swamp the sport of golf.

Schwinden still grins and bears conversations like this at her pro shop:

“Who is your pro?” an incoming golfer will ask.

“I am,” Schwinden will answer.

“No really, who is your pro?” the golfer counters.

Schwinden has been for the last seven years. During that time, she has done more to promote women’s golf than Augusta’s recent decision ever will.

Does the fact that former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and a South Carolina businesswoman are now members of Augusta impact women’s golf? Hardly.

“I think this is more recognizing the fact that women are on an even playing field in the business world,” said Johnson, who has been the pro at the Fargo Country Club for the last seven years. “That’s what the membership is all about at Augusta.”

And what Schwinden has been about is getting more and more women to actually play golf.

“On a typical day at Osgood, 30 to 40 percent of our golfers are women,” Schwinden said. “So we’re going in the right direction.”

It wasn’t until after college and while working at the pro shop at Fargo’s Edgewood Golf Course did Schwinden realize she might be able to make a career out of golf.

Often, female golfers would ask her if she knew of any woman who could help them with their game. That’s when the light bulb went on for Schwinden.

“We were missing that in the golf industry,” said Schwinden, who garnered her PGA pro card in a quick 18 months.

Now, Osgood’s nine-hole course has become a magnet for female golfers. Wednesday’s ladies day has as many as 40 golfers. Schwinden’s newly started LPGA program has attracted 140 girls.

It’s all part of a trend that private clubs in Fargo and Moorhead are seeing as well. As many as 40 women are golfing the Fargo Country Club every Tuesday night. And the number of “Ladies Day” participants at the Moorhead Country Club has doubled, with as many as 40 golfers.

“Women’s golf is bigger in general,” said Moorhead County Club pro Larry Murphy. “So for a club like Augusta to have not let women become members is so foolish. Things have changed, and it should’ve changed a long time ago at Augusta.”

Schwinden couldn’t agree more.

“They are a private club and they can do what they want, but I don’t think it makes it right,” Schwinden said. “I guess you have to start somewhere and maybe in a few years, this won’t even be an issue.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com