Augusta National admits first female members: what does it mean?
This week, Billy Payne, the guy who brought the Olympics to Atlanta and the Augusta National chairman, announced the acceptance of two female members to the home of the Masters, a milestone in the esteemed club’s 80 year-old history.
When the club opens in October for its new season, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 57, and South Carolina financier Darla Moore, 58, will become the first women to slip on green jackets.
“This is a joyous occasion,” exclaimed Payne. “These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership,” Payne said ending a long period of controversy that revved up in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations urged the club to accept women.
The debate was intensified this past year when Virginia Rometty, chief executive of IBM, a major sponsor of the Masters, was not accepted into membership in spite of the fact that the previous four CEOs of Big Blue had been Augusta National members. Indeed on the final day at the tournament, Rometty wore a pink jacket.
Payne, a progressive thinker, took over from former club chairman Hootie Johnson in 2006, a man who refused to consider women seriously and is known to have declared Augusta National might admit women members in the future, “but not at the point of a bayonet.” Johnson even lost Masters television sponsors during the height of the controversy.
So what does it mean? Will it help grow the game of golf by bringing in more women golfers? That is highly questionable.
Ever since women got the vote in 1920, there’s been very little a woman hasn’t been allowed to do. Except maybe donate to a sperm bank — or join a handful of golf clubs like Augusta National. Now we can scratch that last one.
So Augusta National gets two accomplished new members with clout. They join other members, some with more, some with less clout. Augusta also gets a green light to admit IBM’s Rometty down the road a bit without seeming to lose face by buckling to pressure.
The down side? A slight shift in the Club’s mystique. Being a male-only club may have been controversial, but it also made it special like the $1.50 pimento sandwiches.
Will there be a rush by women to join Augusta National? Not likely. The membership process is highly private and many who are asked to join don’t even know they are being considered.
And will classic old-boy, blue-blood, mens-only golf clubs like Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md., Bob O’Link in Highland Park, Il. and the most famous course without a PGA Tour event, Pine Valley in Clementon, NJ, be next to accept the fairer sex?
More importantly should a private club that receives no taxpayer money or subsidies be allowed to select its members any way it wants? Why shouldn’t they?.
The point is, when Rice and Moore tee up as members at Augusta, will it make women golfers just a bit more proud? Will it make them feel a tad less intimated when they are sandwiched between two male foursomes on a Saturday morning?
Probably not. But it will be a good topic of conversation for a while.
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