Analysis: Augusta National's big decision

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NEW YORK — Don’t overlook the two biggest winners in Augusta National’s decision to invite women to join the club.

Moore, Rice  AP
Moore, Rice

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are now members of one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world. They will be presented green jackets when the golf course opens for a new season in October. They can attend the members-only parties, including the Jamboree each spring. Members are discouraged from playing too much at the home of the Masters, though they can bring guests and stay in the white cabins along the 10th fairway.

If their schedules allow, they will be assigned a committee during the Masters. They will be at the members-only dinner in an upstairs chalet at the end of the tournament to toast the newest Masters champion.

But they weren’t the only winners.

The only thing Augusta National ever says about membership issues is that it doesn’t discuss them. Nothing spoke to the historic nature of Monday’s decision more than club chairman Billy Payne issuing a press release to confirm Rice and Moore as the newest members.

He called it a “joyous occasion,” which could be interpreted many ways.

Perhaps the joy is knowing that he won’t be fielding any more questions why Augusta National hasn’t had a female member in its 80-year history. Or that the focus at the Masters can return to white dogwoods, pink azaleas and lightning fast greens.

It does seem strange that keeping up with the times — some argue Augusta was a century behind — by adding female members would constitute a “joyous occasion.”

Even so, Augusta National comes out a winner because it still called the shots.

Former chairman Hootie Johnson said as much 10 years ago when he felt Martha Burk and her women’s advocacy group were threatening the Masters because the club had no women as members.

“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 an interview in his office later that year, Johnson distributed a historical summary of the club and the Masters, the highest-rated golf telecast in the world.

“Our society is changing, and it is only natural that our club should reflect these changes in contemporary society,” Johnson wrote in the one-page summary. “We are finding more and more, our existing members’ suggestions for new members have broadened to include a varied cross section of this society. We expect this trend to continue.”

It seems as though Augusta was headed in this direction all along.

A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because club matters are private, suspects Payne knew in April during the Masters that two women would be fitted for a green jacket by the end of the year.

The announcement was not at the point of a bayonet. It was done in typical, understated Augusta National fashion.

And it nearly left Burk speechless, but only for a moment.

“Oh my God. We won,” she blurted out.

Yes, Burk can claim a victory, too.

Some might argue that trying to corner Johnson in 2002 only delayed the inevitable. But there was nothing to suggest from the public’s viewpoint — everything is so secretive at his Georgia club — that a female member was in the works.

“This is a good turn of events,” Burk said. “It came sooner than I expected. I thought they were going to try to outlast me. 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. There’s a possibility it would not have happened for 20 or 30 years.”

Did her protest slow progress at a club that does nothing quickly?

“I think the ‘point of a bayonet’ was indicative of the mindset, not only of Hootie but the steering body,” Burk said. “No, I don’t think it would have happened sooner. They had no intention of having a woman member.”

Other winners?

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem no longer has to cringe when the subject of Augusta National’s membership is brought up. The tour has a policy not to play at golf courses that don’t have women or minorities. But the PGA Tour has no control over the Masters. It was suggested to Finchem on more than one occasion that the tour no longer recognize the Masters as an official win, and not have its earnings count toward the PGA Tour money list.

Finchem finally said in May that the Masters was “too important” to ignore.

“We don’t get to determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don’t have to, because we made the conclusion that regardless of those policies, we are going to continue to play and recognize them as part of the PGA Tour,” he said some of his most blunt remarks.

Finchem weighed in on Augusta’s announcement Monday by commending the club.

“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,” he said.

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were among those who applauded the decision. Perhaps their biggest cheer is not having to answer questions about it. Whatever their feelings — and golfers are known to play it safe whenever topics turn controversial — all they cared about at Augusta National was winning the green jacket.

It comes with a lifetime exemption to the Masters, and a spot in the Champions Locker Room upstairs in the clubhouse. And if they win the Masters in April, they will be invited to a dinner hosted by members, including two of the newest members — Rice and Moore.

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seenitB4 08/21/12 - 08:03 am
Thank you

Thank you Augusta National for doing the right thing at the right time...

NoHayManera 08/21/12 - 08:10 am
Front page?!?!

So, I bought a copy of the AC this morning... you know, because this story was nationally covered and all. Because it was pretty unique, I thought I could frame the paper: The Augusta Chronicle, mentioning the Augusta National, and its breaking of a barrier that's stood for its 80 year history. And how is this NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED NEWS acknowledged by the AC?

It's given a small side article on the front page... overshadowed by 3 stories related to the ASU/GA. Regents name change.

Really, AC? Really?

jbenny2010 08/21/12 - 08:42 am
Martha who??

Oh, that woman who is trying to take credit for something that she actually made last longer through her interference. . .

Demhilord 08/21/12 - 11:20 am
A women WANTS to join an all male club.

No doubt the two women selected to join think they did something special, rather then were chosen for other reason.

I never understood the problem of exclusive clubs. I never felt the need to join a club just for men but it seems some women take it as a personal attack if an organization has no women in it. What is wrong with exclusive clubs? As long as they are not publicly funded I see no problem. But what I really do not understand is that it appears as if some clubs, organizations and such can restrict who they let in and some cannot. I saw a play last year and it was touted as an "all Minority production." But if you ran the same play as "An all white male cast" - I couldn't guess at the fallout.
I love America and I am glade I live here. But sometimes it seems that the people that are born here are so blind. And I also realize that here in the States, noting a race or gender bias tends to have people label you as Racist or Gender Biased.
I'm glad to go to a women's only gym. I don't see men sueing to try to join that.
I'm glad when my husband goes out with his friends. And if he went to a Men's Club that didn't allow women, all the better. People may be equal, but we are not all the same, and God willing, we will never be.
If I wanted to eat at a restaurant that only allowed those who spoke my native language in, that should be my right and should be allowed I feel. If I want to be a member of a club that didn't let in children under the age of 4(or any age) that should be my right. It is not as if there aren't other places those people can go.
People tend to flock to those like them and I think the biggest question is - "IF NO ONE IS HURT, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM." And were women really hurt by not being allowed to join the National?
Well, I have spouted off and rambled, sorry. I have no grammar checker on this. You can tell a person they are stupid but if they are too dumb to understand, who is the fool.
What is the end goal of all these equal rights people? To have all Americans become raceless, colorless clones with no racial heritage?
Again, sorry if this is disjointed.

my.voice 08/21/12 - 03:35 pm
I honestly dont understand

I honestly dont understand why this is even news. Who cares if women joined an all male club? I mean, its a mens club, its not the KKK or some other mean spirited group. And if you really think the Augusta National cares what you think, drive onto the grounds and see what happens.

So whats next, men joining the Jr League? Girl Scouts? Male Nuns? We waste too much energy on things which really dont matter.

Personally, Id rather see the National REVOKE Tiger's membership than focus on allowing the opposte sex to join. Its a matter of priorities; WOMEN should be upset that Tiger Woods USED women like he did and is still in good standing with the club......... I just dont see how letting women join is or was the "right thing"..........


itsanotherday1 08/21/12 - 11:46 pm
Martha Burk is full of it.

Martha Burk is full of it. Ten years???? She didn't have a darned thing to do with it; if anything, she delayed what was to be a natural evolution.

itsanotherday1 08/21/12 - 11:54 pm
@ Demhilord

BLESS you lady! In the USA we are free to associate with whom we please as long as it isn't government sanctioned discrimination. I fully support any private organization that wishes to be all female, all male, all black, all white, all Asian, all anything; as long as it doesn't benefit from the taxpaying people who are excluded. An "ALL" whatever restaurant or bar should be allowed to give it a try; although I doubt very many would succeed.

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