Twenty-two years after Augusta National Golf Club admitted it first black male member, it announced earlier today that it has invited two females to join its membership ranks: Darla Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman, and former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, according to the New York Times, CNN and other news sources. This change in membership policy has been defined by some as the “Berlin Wall of discrimination” coming down in sports.
If you know anything about the world of golf, Augusta National is the private club that hosts the Masters Golf Tournament. For at least 10 years, the club has come under attack for not admitting women as members. Regrettably, Augusta National came under attack earlier this year when it failed to extend an invitation to Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM. [Ref 1] Since the club had yet to admit any female members, Ms. Rometty was in good company except for one thing: IBM has been one of three major sponsors for the Masters golf tournament, and Augusta National had extended a membership invitation to its past four CEOs who just happened to be all male. I suppose until April of this year, it was less of an issue because no female had ever held the position of CEO for IBM.
Burke and Rice are each very accomplished in their own right. Their achievements are equal to, or in some cases may even surpass those of the club’s male members whose ranks they most likely will be joining. Rice currently is a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where she has also been provost. Moore is the vice president of Rainwater Inc., the investment firm founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater. [Ref 1,2]
Augusta National opened in 1932. Its policies and practices regarding membership have been an issue for some time. Women had been allowed to play at the club as guests of members. In 2002 Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organization began a campaign that urged the club to include women before the 2003 Masters tournament. [Ref 1,2]
According to Tim Finchem, commissioner for the Professional Golfing Association (PGA), “At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport.” [Ref 1] While I agree with Commissioner Finchem that this is a positive and inclusive message, can he let us all know what took Augusta National so-o-o-o-o-o long to get on board in removing this gender barrier almost 50 years after most other major institutions had already done so?
Perhaps the embarrassment of not admitting Ms. Rometty of IBM, and the potential loss of major sponsorship dollars was a “wake-up” call for the members of the private golf club. For sure, dis-ing Ms. Rometty was not sitting well with a lot of people. As karma would have it, Ms. Rometty may have the ultimate say in deciding if IBM will sponsor the 2013 Masters event, or if the funding level for sponsorship will remain the same or decrease.
Jay Carney, press secretary for the White House, stated, “The president welcomes the new development as well. He thinks it was too long in coming, but obviously believes it was the right thing to do.” I agree! While some may say better late than never, it is difficult to understand how members of such an elite group as Augusta National could not have seen the benefits of extending its membership to women and men of color sooner than it did.
On joining this elite club, former secretary Rice and vice president Moore will receive their green jackets, a symbol and status of membership. Augusta National, in making this move today, will ensure that the green sponsorship dollars continue to come their way.
- “Augusta National Adds First Two Female Members”, by Karen Crouse, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/sports/golf/augusta-national-golf-club-to-add-first-two-female-members.html?_r=1, published August 20, 2012
- “Augusta National Golf Club admits first female members”, by Michael Pearson, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/20/us/augusta-female-members/index.html?hpt=hp_t3, August 20, 2012.