By Ann Liguori
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This past April during The Masters, the debate pertaining to the fact that Augusta National had no female members became a hot topic again when Ginny Rometty became IBM’s first female CEO. IBM is a long time sponsor of The Masters and Augusta National traditionally invites the IBM CEO to join but there was not a word about welcoming Rometty as a member.
During a contentious news conference in which numerous reporters asked Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne in a variety of ways about the female membership issue, Payne answered numerous times that he doesn’t comment on membership issues. Payne looked silly and the club did not look good.
It was obvious to any observer that the questions left unanswered that day did not enhance Augusta National’s image. With a club that prides itself on excellence and being state-of the-art and ahead of the times in most areas, they came away looking badly.
I’ve covered The Masters for WFAN Radio since 1998 and I say, as I’ve said on talk shows many times, that the Club treats me incredibly well and it’s a pleasure to cover golf there. I’ve made many friends there whom I treasure. They run one of the best sporting events in the world close to perfection. And I’ve played Augusta National twice, the Monday after The Masters, and savored every bit of the exceptional golf course and incredible experience!
But there was always this glaring omission regarding female members. As wonderful as Augusta National is, I was always disappointed and frustrated that a club that hosts a popular global event, with millions of men and women tuning in to watch, did not have women members. Augusta National prides itself on their commitment and priority to ‘grow’ the game and it was hypocritical to announce their efforts every year in that area and yet not have any female members.
So today’s announcement is huge for the club and for women and the two women invited in as members – avid golfer Condoleezza Rice, 57, former Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush and Darla Moore, 58, who is vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company. Moore is also the founder and chair of The Charleston Parks Conservancy, a foundation focused on enhancing the parks and public spaces of Charleston, S.C. and is apparently, a good friend of Hootie Johnson, a former Chairman of Augusta National.
In 2002 after Martha Burk protested down the street from the club, Johnson said the club may one day admit women, “but not at the point of a bayonet.” It was rumored that the Club back then was considering inviting a female member or two, but the club was not about to succumb to that kind of pressure and even went two years without television sponsorship at the time.
Now the Club, with their MAJOR breakthrough, can focus on growing the game and continue staging one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world with a clear conscience.
Thoughts on golf’s major step forward? Let Ann know in the comments below!