It’s about time: Congrats, Augusta…?
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters

Chairman Payne: Women at last!

Finally–perhaps the understatement of the century (pick one), but Augusta National Golf Club has done away with its sexist Membership policy and accepted not just one woman, but two!

It’s about time.

On Monday Chairman Billy Payne, who to my understanding deserves much of the credit for pushing it through, announced the club has admitted not just one, but two women members to the uber-exclusive old boy’s club. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — whom many predicted would be the one tapped when the time came — and business executive Darla Moore will be the first female members of the club, according to the AP’s Doug Ferguson.

After the rather compelling soap opera that unfolded in April and the growing scrutiny ANGC received from politicians and the public for their outdated practices,  it seemed inevitable Monday’s announcement was imminent. There was a hostile sentiment in Payne’s annual press conference the Wednesday of Masters week, and it didn’t seem like real life at times, since The State of The Masters turned into a farce with Payne as the jester.

With Augusta becoming the butt of jokes on Twitter even among politicians–even though we know the club doesn’t put up with outside pressures strong-arming them. Augusta does things on their own time and stealthily. Which is why we whispered that we’d probably learn of a woman member six or so months down the line. We assumed it’d be IBM CEO Ginny Rometty since it’s tradition that the new CEO of one of Augusta’s three sponsors receives a Green Jacket for his/her accomplishment. Ginny rising to her position gave Augusta a way out of its whole unpleasant sexist policy, but the club didn’t bite.

However, about five months after this season’s Masters–on their own timetable–Payne and ANGC just about blindsided everyone with this groundbreaking, heroic announcement. Women, at last!

When the news hit the wires on Monday, I was startled only because it was going to overshadow poor Sergio Garcia’s excellent victory. And Augusta National admitting women is a story that transcends the golfing world. Others looking in find the whole ting farcical, which is exactly what it is. When I ask the average person their thoughts on Augusta’s membership policy or such, I usually get one of those, “Are you serious?” looks, as in “This is actually an issue in this day and age and a massive controversy.” Color them not impressed with golf and it only strengthens the negative stereotypes that the game has long been synonymous with.

It wasn’t a major surprise the announcement came at a somewhat random time, say the end of August. After all, ANGC does things on its own time and “all issues of Membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the Members.”

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club,” said Payne in a statement sent to the media via email shortly after the news originally broke. “We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different.

“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.

“This is a significant and positive time in our Club’s history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”

Yes, it was quite a significant day, but why did it take so long? It’s a positive that in the club’s 80-year history, the gender barrier had been broken. Yee-haw. Break out the cigars and scotch.

Augusta and Payne do deserve to be congratulated — for entering the 20th century! Okay, fine, the 21st! — the 1960s. Better late than never, right? Um, sure. Well, golf claps on taking a step in the right direction.

Doing the right thing was long overdue, and I’m glad the club finally took the first step with this symbolic gesture. But there is still a long way to go in terms of breaking down golf’s exclusionary and elitist reputation. Hopefully this will have a meaningful impact on the game, but I still think it’s going to take years. (Which is what I said in our impromptu session of PGA Tour Confidential.)

Girls and women of any age aren’t suddenly going to say, “Hey, I heard Augusta now allows women members, I want to play golf!” Newsflash: Women who don’t golf or come from a golfing family don’t care and many don’t even know what or where Augusta National is or that until Monday the club was all-male. (I just did a quick impromptu poll amongst my friends, but will try a larger sampling later–the general response is, oh that’s where some big tournament or whatever is, right?

So, why didn’t I feel overjoyed about the “joyous occasion”? Why wasn’t I doing cartwheels across my living room? Was something wrong with me? I felt…blah and a little miffed.

First of all,  I find it preposterous to describe something that should have happened 40-50 years ago with so much praise. Sure, I’m happy about its no longer all-male, but the rhetoric didn’t sit well with me–personally, it sounds like he’s likening this occasion of admitting women to the civil rights movements. What’s so “joyous” exactly? What are we celebrating? OK, good job–you were strong-armed into letting in two women. Rah-rah. It’s 2012.

I loosely monitored the hoopla on my social media channels. I had to take a step back from the pom-poms and celebration (with the exception of a few rational-minded folks, like Michelle Beadle) that dominated my Twitter feed.

Two hours later, people were still giving each other proverbial high-fives and congratulating Augusta National via Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, blogs and columns, etc.

Really Really. For what? The old boy’s club opened their doors to two women into the exclusive membership. It merely ook eighty years for to rid of their sexist policy. Again, progress!

Look, as I’ve said in other posts, I don’t care about all-male private clubs when it comes to Pine Valley or Butler or Burning Tree — those are all-male clubs that are, in fact, private. (Oh, please spare me the all-female club arguments. Curves! Um, last I checked Curves didn’t influence policy on how all people worked out.)

Augusta is only private by name and is in a league of its own. It holds a very public role in the international golfing world. ANGC has a vote in the World Ranking, which “affects the career of every pro golfer, and any tweaks to the formula can have a profound effect on a player’s fortunes.” Then, there’s their involvement in programs like The First Tee, which “impacts the lives of millions of kids, and Augusta National’s Jim Armstrong sets policy on their experience as a member of the The First Tee’s board of directors.”

Kudos to Payne and ANGC for (finally) doing the right thing. But then I got a little feisty (more so than usual): This all just reminded me (for the 5,683th time) of how far behind the golf world is and how much progress needs to happen still. I see ANGC acting as the guardian of all things golf — it’s like the mecca — and their exclusionary and close-minded policies haven’t given the game the best image or reputation, per se.

Maybe this is unfair, because, as you know, Augusta National is a private club that just happens to hold a very famous golf tournament. Geez, it’s not their fault! OK, then don’t hold the Masters at all. Or since it’s an Invitational and it’s a “private” club, stage the tournament and close the doors to “patrons” and the media. Make it a private event instead of opening the doors to the public, profiting from the public and the networks for the TV rights.

Augusta National should have been better than its shameful history of exclusion and discrimination. It should have set a better example.

Crazy talk!

Due to my own personal experiences working in the golf industry in the past three years, I’ve grown skeptical (yet somehow still optimistic and enthusiastic for the most part –I almost feel like a Golden Retriever sometimes) to a world that is still far behind in eliminating the prejudiced culture–whether it be ageism, sexism or racism.

Call me naive–and I’ll plead no contest (fine, guilty). I’m also young, but I’ve lived about eight lives in 29 years. I don’t even know how I’ve managed to fit it all in. Of course, I’ve got a lot to learn still. And I am, every day.

What I’ve seen and experienced makes me a little sad, only because it’s shown me an intriguing yet unflattering reflection of a part of society that is far less evolved than we’d like to think.

I guess I’m hopeful that this massive first step Augusta finally took will be the start of actual progress. There’s a lot of catching up to do.


I will clarify and clean up what’s been train of thought later…

For now, I must participate in an emergency session of PGA Tour Confidential. 

*Go here for the SI Golf Group’s emergency PGA Tour Confidential roundtable on Augusta opening its doors to women.

 (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, FIle)