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Court denies Burk emergency request

By Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 10, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A federal appeals court rejected Martha Burk's emergency request to allow protesters outside the front gate of Augusta National Golf Club.

The ruling Wednesday by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals came just hours before the Masters was scheduled to begin this morning.

Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations, plans to protest Augusta National's all-male membership during the third round Saturday.

She wanted to place picketers at the front gate of the exclusive club, but Sheriff Ronald Strength would only approve a site a half-mile away. He said it was unsafe to gather in front of the club because of heavy congestion during the tournament.

NO STARTER: For the first time since 1980, a Masters tradition will be missing when the tournament begins. There will be no honorary starter.

The death last year of three-time Masters champion Sam Snead left the tournament without anyone to hit the ceremonial first tee shot. Snead had been part of opening scene since 1984.

Masters chairman Hootie Johnson had asked Arnold Palmer, who declined.

"He has said that he would be honored to be one at the appropriate time," Johnson said. "He still feels that he's playing enough active golf that he doesn't want to do that now. But I am hopeful that we will have him some time in the future. And we're going to wait on him."

From 1981-99, Snead did the honors with Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson. Sarazen died in 1999 and Nelson stopped after the 2001 tournament. Johnson will make opening remarks on the first tee.

ARNIE'S LETTER: It was a letter from Palmer, followed by another from Jack Nicklaus, that prompted officials to change their minds about implementing an age limit for past champions in the tournament.

"Lifetime exemptions was a part of this tournament," said Palmer, 73, who will play for the 49th straight year after originally saying the 2002 tournament would be his last. "And it was in keeping with the tradition of the tournament to have that lifetime exemption.

"I played with Gene Sarazen (the 1935 champion) here when I first played in the Masters (1955), and it was one of the great experiences of my life. Gene was a much older man, like I am. And it was wonderful to play with him. And I think the people in the galleries saw that. And I think they enjoyed seeing that. And I think they enjoy seeing it today."

COURSE UPDATE: The course is soaked, and it will be today. More rain fell late Wednesday afternoon.

"The golf course has taken just about as much water as it can take," said Will Nicholson, chairman of the competition committee. Due to the weather, starting times were pushed back 30 minutes.

PAR-3 CONTEST: The annual nine-hole event on the adjacent par-3 layout was shortened due to rain, with Padraig Harrington and David Toms being declared co-winners. Each player shot 6-under-par 21.

-- BOB HARIG, Times wires

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