At Augusta National, It's Too Little, Too Late
Let us not go overboard with trumpets blaring and accolades galore for Augusta National Golf Club simply because that home of the Masters Tournament broke down another of its ugly old social barriers and admitted a couple of very rich women as members.
Resorting to tokenism once again to get off the gender hook, Augusta National will deserve congratulations when its members fulfill their claim of dedication to the game of golf and really work to make it a game for men and women of all races, rich or poor.
By admitting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore, from South Carolina, Augusta National, which opened in 1932, succumbed to growing commercial and political pressure to end its 80-year prohibition against female members.
Billy Payne, Augusta National chairman, announced the change of policy last Monday and said, “This is a joyous occasion.”
But Martha Burk, a former president of the National Organization for Women, who single-handedly waged a losing battle in 2002 to have women admitted as members of Augusta National, 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.”
This action came about 22 years after Augusta National caved in to pressure from the PGA Tour and admitted its first African-American member in 1990.
That was also a token gesture and remains such as Rice, the first woman to be the Stanford University provost, is only the sixth or seventh African-American member of the club in Augusta, Ga.
Augusta National rarely gives out any details about members. The announcement that the club was admitting two female members and the 1990 announcement when the first black member joined were exceptions to those rules — as if Augusta National wanted a big pat on the back for dropping its longstanding tradition of bigotry.
There are estimated to be about 300 members of Augusta National, most of whom are wealthy men such as lawyers, doctors, corporate CEOs, university presidents, politicians, athletes and coaches. By admitting Rice and Moore, Augusta National has opened its doors to women of wealth, privilege and the correct political affiliation.
It would have been much more impressive if Augusta National had invited a few good female public links golfers to join, instead of two well-known and well-connected ladies.
But let’s give a little bit of credit to these old codgers at Augusta National. After all, they did lean way down, get a good grip on things and then, with great effort, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps with such verve that they managed to extricate themselves from the antebellum era and drop all the way forward into the time of the Model T.
Opened the Door a Crack
This adjustment in archaic thought processes at the end of Magnolia Lane probably began percolating last January when IBM, one of the major television sponsors of the Masters Tournament on CBS, named Virginia Rometty as its first female CEO.
It was obvious to all that Augusta National faced a quandary then because each of the three men who served as the IBM chief executive prior to Rometty was given membership in Augusta National.
Payne, who chaired the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, was asked repeatedly last April during the Masters what he was going to do about Rometty.
The result is that Rometty is still not a member, while two other women among America’s 1 percenters are now members of Augusta National.
Although Augusta National has really only opened the door a crack, there are numerous other golf clubs around the country that remain even more strongly committed to discriminating against women than Augusta National used to be. At least Augusta National allowed women to play the course as guests of its male members in the past.
The most prominent among the remaining all-male clubs is Burning Tree Golf and Country Club in Bethesda, Md. This is sort of the nation’s political boys club. The members include powerful Washington insiders of both parties — members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and lobbyists.
The speaker of the house, John Boehner, is a member of the no-women-allowed Burning Tree Club. But his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, was, of course, never invited to become a member.
While one or more of her colleagues on the Supreme Court were members of Burning Tree, Sandra Day O’Connor, an avid golfer, was not even allowed on the property.
It is said that when a small, private plane crash landed on the Burning Tree course years ago, a woman passenger in the plane survived. Instead of calling for an ambulance for her, employees of the club got her to the front gate as soon as possible and sent her on her way in a cab.
Not too far up I-95 from our nation’s capital is the excellent Pine Valley Golf Club, an all-male club just east of Philadelphia on the edge of the southern New Jersey Pine Barrens. Listed first or second on most rankings of U.S. courses, Pine Valley will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year without ever admitting a female member. But Pine Valley allows women to play as guests on Sunday after 11:30 a.m.
There are many other all-male golf clubs, such as Garden City Golf Club on Long Island and Adios in Florida.
Despite being but a token move by Augusta National, maybe it was a nudge in the right direction that could lead to changes at such stodgy places as those mentioned here.
But it will take some hard work by the lords of the game who claim they are doing their best to get more and more folks playing golf.
Some of these men are just the ones who have hampered growth in the past as members of Augusta National Golf Club.
The United States Golf Association Executive Committee, which was once an all-male group, currently has 12 men and three women members. Most of those dozen men are believed to be Augusta National members. There were times when every single member of that USGA Executive Committee was a member at Augusta National.
That is why it is always a joke to listen to a president of the USGA expound on how hard the USGA is working to entice women and young girls to get involved in golf.
Glen D. Nager, the current USGA president, spoke that way just last week on TV during the U.S. Men’s Amateur Championship in Colorado.
Nager, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, said the recreational golf business was facing problems because of the cost of the game, time it takes to play a round and need to attract young men and women.
Nager began his law career as one of Sandra Day O’Connor’s law clerks at the Supreme Court in 1983. She of the golf addiction who should have been a prime candidate for membership at Augusta National.
If Nager and other USGA officials are so interested in attracting women to the game, why are they not speaking out against the all-male practices of clubs such as Burning Tree, Pine Valley, Garden City Golf Club and Adios?
It is, of course, coincidental but quite ironic that Augusta National took its action to admit women within a few days of the magnificent success of American women at the XXX Olympics in London and less than 24 hours after the Missouri crackpot candidate for the U.S. Senate, Todd Akins, declared that “legitimate rape” does not cause pregnancy.
The war on women by such fools as Akins is countered by great achievements our women earn, and the small advances they make by cracking the glass ceiling when saner men such as the Augusta National members grudgingly give in.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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