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Women Join The Ranks of Augusta National Golf Club

By: Kevin Scarbinsky, Birmingham News
By: Kevin Scarbinsky, Birmingham News

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - Did you hear the news Mon­day?

The Augusta National Golf Club joined the 20th cen­tury.

It was a little late, this being the 21st century and all, and al­most a hundred years after women won the right to vote, but give the old boys in the green coats some credit.

Actually, that's not even nec­essary.

They took the credit them­selves for finally doing the right thing -- despite taking their good old sweet time in getting it done -- as if it were business as usual to welcome Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore to join their little club.

"A joyous occasion," club chairman Billy Payne called it.

Payne expressed that senti­ment in a press release the club issued to tell the world that Rice, the Birmingham native and former secretary of state, and Moore, a South Carolina financier, had become members.

That was the giveaway, the telltale sign that the club had made belated and reluctant history.

A press release? Announcing new members? At Augusta National? And naming them?

That happens about as often as the club entertains offers from filmmakers to tape a modern-day "Caddyshack" at Amen Corner.

Augusta National guards its membership secrets with the same kind of zeal the Secret Service employs to protect the president. Payne spent a good bit of his annual press conference during Masters week in April almost comically ducking and dodging a series of questions about the club's longstanding no-girls-allowed policy.

In his opening remarks that day, he'd expressed a concern about growing the game of golf, and some wise guy picked up the scent, suggesting the club could help increase interest among women by, you know, actually letting one join the club.

There was even a logical candidate at the time. IBM had a new CEO, and the IBM CEO was always offered a membership.

This time, for the first time, the IBM CEO was a woman.

Do the math, and Augusta National could've done the right thing after all these years based on power and precedent rather than gender.

Problem solved? Please.

"That deals with a membership issue," Payne said, "and I'm not going to answer it."

One reporter got creative, asking what Payne tells his granddaughters about leading a club with no female members, and he got cute.

"My conversations with my granddaughters are personal," he said.

Another reporter tried to box in the chairman from the opposite direction, asking him, "What would you suggest I tell my daughters?"

Payne's glib and weak response: "I don't know your daughters."

So, four months ago, the chairman wouldn't touch the subject on a professional, personal or impersonal level, on the grounds that membership in a private club is, well, private.

But let time pass. Let the issue of the female CEO of IBM fade. Let Augusta National find two other women to make history in late August, and all of a sudden it merits a press release? What happened to membership issues being private matters?

Of course, the press release didn't mention that Rice and Moore were making history as the club's first female members. Not directly. To note that progress now would be to acknowledge the club's stubborn and glacial resistance to it.

The statement did call this "a significant and positive time in our club's history," and so it is.

Rice and Moore joining Augusta National isn't going to make life any better for any women beyond Rice and Moore. They're not female Jackie Robinsons, and Payne is no Branch Rickey. But this little slice of history is going to accomplish two things.

Augusta National no longer gets to have its public tournament and its private and discriminatory privileges, too.

More importantly, Payne's granddaughters and a lot of other little girls now can dream of growing up to join the most prestigious golf club in the world. If they grow up to be rich enough and accomplished enough.

Payne himself has to be genuinely joyous and more than a little relieved. Now that he's presided over history, he can stop dancing around all those uncomfortable questions and get back to growing the game of golf.

al.com


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