Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Augusta National admits first women members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore

NEW YORK — The home of the Masters now has green jackets for two women.

In a historic change at one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs, Augusta National invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.

As guests of members, both Rice and Moore have played at Augusta National on multiple occasions. They will be welcomed into one of the most exclusive enclaves in golf, the club's membership numbering around only 300 of the country's rich and powerful.

"This is a joyous occasion," club chairman Billy Payne said Monday.

Martha Burk and her women's advocacy group first challenged the club 10 years ago over its all-male membership. The debate returned this year when IBM, one of the top corporate sponsors of the Masters tournament, appointed Virginia Rometty as its chief executive. The previous four CEOs of Big Blue had all been members.

The battle ended in typical style for Augusta National, with an understated announcement that left even Burk stunned.

"Oh my God. We won," she blurted out when contacted by the Associated Press.

Burk was not the first advocate to draw attention to women being left out, but it was an exchange with former chairman Hootie Johnson in 2002 that ignited the issue. Even at the cost of cutting loose television sponsors for two years, Johnson famously said the club might one day ask a woman to join, "but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet."

Johnson, who retired as chairman in 2006, said Monday in a statement to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., "This is wonderful news for Augusta National Golf Club and I could not be more pleased."

Johnson and Moore have roots in South Carolina and banking, and they worked together on a $300 million capital campaign for the University of South Carolina. Rice recently was appointed to an influential U.S. Golf Association committee that nominates members to the executive board.

Payne, who took over as chairman in 2006 when Johnson retired, said that consideration for new members is deliberate and private. Even so, he took the rare step of announcing two of the latest members to join because of the historical significance.

A club spokesman could not directly answer the question of whether Augusta National would need to add a women's locker room or women's tee boxes, pointing out that women were comfortable in the past playing at the club.

Tiger Woods, who has won the Masters four times, knows Rice through their mutual connection to Stanford University.

"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."

Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and Augusta member, extended his welcome to the two women.

"Everyone at Augusta National shares a similar passion for the game of golf, and I know they will be great additions to the club," Nicklaus said.

The club 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. Before now, women were allowed to play the golf course as guests.

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. "

Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was used in this report.

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