August 23, 2012

By BRADLEY KLAPPER Associated Press

 

For the first time in its 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club has female members.

The home of the Masters, under increasing criticism the last decade because of its all-male membership, invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first women in green jackets when the club opens for a new season in October.

Both women accepted.

“This is a joyous occasion,” said Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.

The move likely ends a debate that intensified in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations urged the club to include women among its members. Former club chairman Hootie Johnson stood his ground, even at the cost of losing Masters television sponsors for two years, when he famously said Augusta National might one day have a woman in a green jacket, “but not at the point of a bayonet.”

The comment took on a life of its own, becoming either a slogan of the club’s resolve not to give in to public pressure or a sign of its sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting it.

“Oh my God. We won,” Burk said. “It’s about 10 years too late for the boys to come into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century. But it’s a milestone for women in business.”

Payne, who took over as chairman in 2006 when Johnson retired, said consideration for new members is deliberate and private, and that Rice and Moore were not treated differently from other new members. Even so, he took the rare step of announcing two of the latest members to join because of the historical significance.

Tiger Woods, who knows Rice through a mutual connection to Stanford, applauded the move.

“I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf,” Woods said. “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.”

A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago. That would be four years after the 2003 Masters, when Burk’s protest in a grass lot down the street from the club attracted only about 30 supporters, and one year after Payne became chairman.

Moore and Johnson are close friends, both with roots in South Carolina and banking, and the person said Payne and Johnson agreed on the timing of a female member. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the club typically does not discuss membership issues, said it was important to Payne to be respectful of the membership process.

The person said prospective members often are not aware they are being considered. Augusta National does not say how much it costs to join or provide figures on annual dues.

Augusta National, which opened in December 1932 and did not have a black member until 1990, is believed to have about 300 members. While the club until now had no female members, women were allowed to play the golf course as guests, including on the Sunday before the Masters week began in April.

Most players at the Masters steered clear of the issue when it was raised, citing the private nature of the club. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem also tried to stay out of it. In some of his strongest comments in May, he said the Masters was “too important” for the tour not to recognize the tournament as an official part of the schedule.

Finchem commended the club on Monday.

“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,” Finchem said.

Moore, 58, first rose to prominence in the 1980s with Chemical Bank, where she became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry. She is vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater, and she was the first woman to be profiled on the cover of Fortune Magazine.

Rice, 57, was the national security adviser under former President George W. Bush and became secretary of state in his second term. The first black woman to be a Stanford provost in 1993, she now is a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

“I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity,” Rice said in a statement released by the club. “I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. 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.”

Rice recently was appointed to the U.S. Golf Association’s nominating committee.

Category: News

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