The news broke yesterday about Augusta National Golf Club inviting two women to join its exclusive club. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business woman Darla Moore were granted membership to Augusta, host of the Masters, one of the biggest tournaments played by the PGA every year.
The Chairman of the club Billy Payne broke with tradition by announcing via a statement that the club was welcoming its first female members and called it “a joyous occasion”. Normally the club is very tight lipped about its membership, but obviously this was very groundbreaking for the Georgia based golf club, which has only had male members for the last eighty years.
The club has fallen under pressure the last several years to start accepting women but up until now has now has not felt the need for anyone with two X chromosomes to be fitted with their trademark green jackets. Augusta only accepted their first African-American member twenty-two years ago and that was after intense pressure from corporate sponsors that threatened to pull their ads from Master’s TV coverage.
Payne underwent perhaps his most uncomfortable press conference this past spring during the week of the Master’s when this topic was brought to a head once again. One of their biggest sponsors IBM had recently appointed Virginia Rometty as its CEO and the four previous head bosses of IBM had all been members at Augusta. It made for prickly conversation for Payne throughout the week as many members of the media called for him to exchange the pink jacket Rometty was wearing throughout the tournament for a green one.
Payne said this additionally in his statement yesterday: ”These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership, it will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall. This is a significant and positive time in our club’s history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”
No doubt it is a step in the right direction. Granted it is years overdue and it is hard to believe in 2012 that this is looked at as a milestone, but nonetheless it is. For the record Augusta has allowed woman to play their golf course for years-if invited by a member. And more importantly as a private club they are free to do whatever they want and accept whomever they want.
The only qualms I have had with Augusta lies more with the PGA. They have held one of their most prestigious events at this club for decades and it has never bothered them enough to challenge the club with their discriminatory practices. Can you imagine if Tiger Woods said he wouldn’t play at the Masters unless they opened their doors to both genders? We would have seen a female in the clubhouse over a decade ago.
So now Augusta hopes this becomes a non-issue for them. They hope that Martha Burk and her advocacy group will take up another cause and stop picketing their tournament every April. They hope that the focus will now return to Amen Corner and the Azaleas that blanket the course. They hope that the eyes of the world will remain on their golf course and away from their exclusive membership. And yes it is a small notch forward for women and indeed it is “a joyous occasion.” It just feels like it should have happened a long time ago.