The private club that puts on the Masters Tournament announced Monday that Rice and Moore will become the first female members in the club’s 80-year history.
“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club,” Augusta National and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne said in a prepared statement.
The selection of Rice and Moore might have been a surprise to some, but the two power brokers have long been mentioned as prospective members as the debate over Augusta National’s membership escalated in the past decade.
Both women are accustomed to breaking new ground.
Rice grew up in Birmingham, Ala., during the civil rights era and went on to become the national security adviser and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
Moore was raised in rural South Carolina and rose to become the highest-paid woman in banking – one not afraid to play hardball with her male colleagues.
Augusta National is usually silent on all matters involving membership, but Monday’s announcement was a historic day for the club and for Payne.
Augusta National was founded by amateur golf star Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts in 1932, and the first Masters was held in 1934. The club has always maintained its right to privacy on membership issues – it also went public when its first black member, Ron Townsend, was admitted in 1990 – but the issue boiled over a decade ago when a women’s advocacy group challenged the club.
Payne’s predecessor, Hootie Johnson, famously fought back.
“There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet,” Johnson said in 2002.
On Monday, in a statement to his hometown Columbia newspaper, The State, Johnson applauded the news.
“This is wonderful news for Augusta National Golf Club, and I could not be more pleased,” Johnson said. “Darla Moore is my good friend, and I know she and Condoleezza Rice will enjoy the club as much as I have.”
Martha Burk, the activist who fought the club on the issue, said “it came sooner than I expected.”
“I thought they were going to try to outlast me,” Burk told The Associated Press. “And I really thought they would wait until the women’s movement would get no credit. But if we had not done what we did, this would not have happened now.”
Payne took over as chairman in 2006 and has instituted a number of initiatives to help expand golf and bring more people into the game. He was questioned in April about why the chief executive officer of IBM, Ginni Rommety, was not a member.
Previous chairmen of IBM, a tournament sponsor, had been invited to join Augusta National.
Rommety has not been invited to join the club, which has roughly 300 members. A club spokesman said that women have always been welcome as guests and are able to play the course and that any changes to the club’s facilities to accommodate the two new members will be seamless.
“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf, and both are well-known and respected by our membership,” Payne said. “It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall.”
Rice, who lives in Stanford, Calif., said she was excited for the opportunity.
“I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf,” Rice said in a statement. “I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world. Golf is a wonderful source of enjoyment for me, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to grow my love for this great game.”
Moore, 58, is a businesswoman from Lake City, S.C. She is the vice president of Rainwater Inc., and the University of South Carolina’s business school is named in her honor.
“I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life,” Moore said in a statement. “Above all, Augusta National and the Masters Tournament have always stood for excellence, and that is what is so important to me. I am extremely grateful for this privilege.”
The selection of Rice and Moore was received with welcome arms from former Masters champions.
“I warmly welcome both Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National,” said six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, who is also a member. “I am delighted they have accepted the invitation to be members. Everyone at Augusta National shares a similar passion for the game of golf, and I know they will be great additions to the club.”
Tiger Woods, the first minority golfer to win the Masters, knows Rice through their Stanford connections.
“I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf,” Woods said in a statement. “The club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice.”
Three-time winner Gary Player echoed those sentiments.
“Change is the price of survival, as I have always said, and Chairman Billy Payne has made the right decision and we all agree with what he said is (a) joyous occasion,” Player said.