FEATURE-Golf-First Women's Amateur sends welcome ripples through Masters
By Amy Tennery
AUGUSTA, Ga., April 14 (Reuters) - More than a week since Jennifer Kupcho hoisted the trophy as the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur winner, the impact of that moment, once unthinkable to the club's old male guard, still reverberated through the hallowed home of the Masters.
"A few guys would turn in their grave because a lot of them stood up in front of these guys and said, 'I will never allow a woman to be a member'," recalled the three-times Masters champion Gary Player.
"So they will be watching that, from wherever they are."
For years, controversy swirled around the club over its long-standing tradition of not admitting women as members, drawing outrage from women's groups as its leadership remained adamantly opposed to permitting a female presence until 2012.
The inaugural Women's Amateur championship marked another major breakthrough at Augusta National, with its long-standing reputation as a haven for rich, white, well-connected men.
For advocates of women's sports, it was more than just a welcome addition to Masters week.
"I think that what's so important is it's just moving the needle," said Women's Sports Foundation CEO Deborah Antoine. "The pride of going down Magnolia Lane and standing where legends have stood and for the first time making this about women."
On the third day of the men's competition on Saturday, Masters patrons said they welcomed the change and noticed a shift in gender balance among the crowd at Augusta National, even days after the women's competition had ended.
Vickie Newell and Pam Bryant, of Clemens, South Carolina, who have attended roughly a dozen Masters, joked that Augusta National was the only place where the line for the men's restroom was longer than that of the women's.
"I think that [the women's tournament] will make a difference," said Bryant, who believes it will have an impact on the sport beyond Augusta.
"Who knows? Maybe even being in the Masters is next," Bryant said.
"Obviously the women need the same opportunities as the men," said Charles Breithaupt, who, like other golf patrons at Augusta, felt a women's Masters was in reach.
"The people at Augusta National Golf Club are looking at ... diversifying opportunities."
"I think it will happen," added Rick Cornutt, who travelled from the Memphis area in Tennessee to attend the Masters. "The women's game has made great strides.
"There are a lot more women here this year."
Following Kupcho's landmark feat as the first woman ever to win at Augusta, questions over when the Masters will see a women's professional competition lingered.
And supporters of a women's Masters may well have to wait as Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley tossed cold water on the idea, saying that the club was not planning to introduce a women's professional event.
But regrets? Perhaps Augusta National's had a few.
"I think that everyone, no matter what the issue is, you know, we can always look back and say we could do better. No question," acknowledged Ridley.
"It's always instructive to look at the past." (Reporting Editing by Ian Chadband)