Martha Burk is lashing out once more against the males-only policy of the privately owned Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC), which hosts the Masters tournament.

Burk claims playing golf with "the boys" is a moral right, thereby cheapening every complaint of real discrimination. The "right to golf" makes a mockery of centuries of true struggle by women and minorities.

Burk’s National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition are expected to protest at the weeklong Masters tournament, which starts on April 7.

What "right" do women have to play golf on someone else’s private property? None whatsoever. What moral or legal obligation does anyone have to provide women with golf? None whatsoever.

William (Hootie) Johnson, head of the ANGC, correctly argues the club’s "membership is single gender, just as many other organizations and clubs all across America. These would include junior Leagues, sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and countless others. And we all have a moral and legal right to organize our clubs the way we wish."

As long as no tax money is involved, every man and woman should be free to associate with whomever they wish and peacefully to discriminate with their own property.

Sadly, those arguing for freedom of association — including Hootie — often damage their own cause. By taking the debate seriously they provide a forum for people who should be derisively laughed off the stage. They allow Burk to convert the "dilemma" of golfless, middle-class women into a real news story.

Burk’s high-profile campaign against ANGC was able to grab media attention only because of the hyperbolic reaction of Hootie, who made the mistake of going public with private correspondence in a press statement. Bob Verdi, senior writer for Golf Digest and Golf World, was correct in stating it was Johnson’s response to Burk that sparked media interest.

Burk herself admits rebuking the ANGC was "such a small part off our [NCWO’s] agenda. It was almost trivial" but "because of the media attention ... it has become major."

Hootie is showing commendable restraint this year. But other factions in the city of Augusta itself are overreacting and snapping at Burk’s bait. This is the reaction she is trying to provoke. For example, Burk recently established the Web site, which many have reasonably interpreted to be a smear of the entire city.

On Feb. 18, in specific response to the ANGC controversy, the Augusta Richmond County Commission created new regulations to control protests. For example, protesters must apply for a permit 20 days before a demonstration.

Such regulations have "backroom politics" written all over them. One of the commissioners stated the controversial measure was "the result of a compromise that puts the city’s fire department in an inner-city office building." According to a news report on the PGA Web site: "The five white commissioners supported the new law; all five blacks opposed it, saying they believed the changes were intended to stifle civil rights. Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who is white, cast the deciding vote Tuesday to break a 5-5 tie."

Burk has already declared such regulations a violation of civil rights. Given the opposition of the black commissioners to the vote, Jackson’s reaction is predictable. Thus a ridiculous claim of discrimination is being lent the trappings of a just cause by people who overreact and try to suppress it.

Other Hootie supporters are acting sanely. Two groups — WAMB (Women Against Martha Burk) and The Burk Stops Here — have asked the city of Augusta for permits to demonstrate against ... Martha Burk. WAMB pledges to stage a "light-hearted" protest, which is the ideal response to women’s "right to golf." The one thing that Burk and Jackson most fear is receiving the reaction they most deserve: to have people laugh in their faces.

It is Burk’s organization — not the ANGC — that stands to lose most of its membership. Kimberly Schuld, author of The Guide to Feminist Organizations, has investigated NCWO and found it to be largely an empty shell of an organization.

Schuld explains most of the members in Burk’s group are inactive. And many are likely to shy away from bad publicity, especially the sort of publicity Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, is bringing to bear on the National Foundation of Women Legislators to withdraw from the NCWO. Burmeister states, "I don’t like it that I have Martha Burk coming down to my district and trying to force a private organization to do something they don’t wish to do."

Hootie and the Augusta commissioners should take notes from Burmeister and WAMB. Burk deserves derision for making women’s rights into a circus of trivial privileges.

The "right to golf" is both laughable and obscene. Laughable because this is what political correctness has been reduced to — arguing for the right of affluent women to spend leisure time hitting a small ball around someone else’s property where they are not wanted. Obscene because it is an offense to every woman or minority who has suffered genuine harm through discrimination.

Laugh or cry, but do not rise to Burk’s bait.