Augusta National to Add First Two Female Members

Aug 20, 2012
Originally published on August 20, 2012 4:02 pm
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And I'm Melissa Block.

The most famous old boys club in golf is now admitting women. Augusta National Golf Club, the storied home of the Masters Tournament, says it has accepted two female members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Today's announcement comes after years of pressure by women's rights groups, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Augusta National is all about tradition, so the club did not exactly rush to change its 80-year-old policy of admitting only male members. As recently as the Masters Tournament in April, Chairman Billy Payne dodged questions from reporters about when the club might finally admit women as members.

BILLY PAYNE: Well, as has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members.

ROSE: But those members apparently had a change of heart, because today Augusta National announced that two women, South Carolina financier Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice, have been invited to join the club. In a written statement, Payne described it as a joyous occasion. Women's rights activists called it a moment for celebration, too.

MARTHA BURK: They stonewalled 10 years ago and they got away with it. And I think now the public isn't buying it anymore.

ROSE: Martha Burk is the former chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations. It's been almost a decade since she first called on Augusta National to admit women, but the club stood its ground. The chairman at the time famously joked that Augusta National might one day admit a female member, but, quote, "not at the point of a bayonet."

The controversy died down for a while, but it resumed in a big way this year after Virginia Rometty took over as CEO of IBM, which is a major sponsor of the Masters Tournament. Burk thinks that really forced the club to reconsider its unwritten membership policy.

BURK: I didn't think it was tenable in April, but somehow, they - meaning the club and the company - got through it. But perhaps they saw that it wasn't going to hold up for one more year and they had to do something.

ROSE: Next spring, Augusta National officials can presumably go back to talking about their preferred subject, golf. The club says Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore will get their coveted green jackets in the fall.

Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.