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Augusta can't dig out from moral hazard

Augusta National isn't the only snooty-pants private country club stuck in a social time warp somewhere between the Dred Scott decision and a burqa. It's simply the most obvious.

There is a tony country club in the Chicago area where an applicant was asked to submit the birth certificate of his wife, just to make sure the bloodlines were snuffy white. After all, you can't be too careful about these things, lest an errant member with a questionable gene pool might find himself sipping dry martinis in the grill.

In the 1980s, Chicago's Butler National Golf Club dropped out as a PGA tournament site rather than admit minorities. And it is true that private clubs can feel free to discriminate all they want. It's their party and they can blackball if they want to.

But Augusta, despite all its rich traditions as the Skull and Bones of niblicks, is in a somewhat different moral hazard.

It was inevitable that Augusta chairman Billy Payne would have to face a deluge of questions this week over the club's self-inflicted Victorian era policy of not admitting women to its ranks of well-heeled spats. Now it's one woman in particular, Virginia Rometty, the current CEO of IBM.

Among its many Dickens meets Archie Bunker legacies, the CEO of IBM, one of the Masters' biggest corporate sponsors, becomes an automatic member of the club with all attendant privileges such as hanging around with insufferable windbags. What fun.

The elevation of Rometty to the pinnacle of corporate power at IBM put the wing collars of Augusta in something of a pickle. Breasts! In a green jacket! Oh no!

By even the opaque standards of Augusta's membership requirements, Rometty is more than worthy of inclusion. She worked her keister off to climb to the zenith of a male-dominated corporate culture and lead one of the world's signature companies.

Along the way to the top, no doubt Rometty left more than a few crushed male … uh, egos in her wake. And yet, because of her estrogen levels, Virginia Rometty falls woefully short at Augusta.

But for sheer Kabuki theater of the absurd, nothing beat Payne's pre-Masters news conference in which most of the sporting press treated the chairman with more kid gloves than Bess Truman. You would have thought the scribblers believed they were in the presence of the Nelson Mandela of mashies.

It is worth noting only one woman, the New York Times' Karen Crouse, was called upon the ask a question — after 20 minutes of raising her hand. Of course, the inquiry was about Rometty. And of course Payne swatted it away as a private issue for the club to address.

But that is so much piffle.

Augusta National is much more than a private country club for swells. It is a vast corporate enterprise that rakes in gazillions of dollars a year in sponsorships, television rights, ticket sales, merchandising its logo around the world, licensing video games and other assorted marketing and promotional campaigns.

The club is, for all practical purposes, the IBM of brassies. Augusta is the equivalent of someone who pours out their most intimate details on Facebook and then complains about not having any privacy.

Watching the news conference with Payne, who came off as bad version of Tennessee Williams' Big Daddy, the urge to scream at the television was almost too much to resist.

Why wouldn't one of the assembled reporters ask a couple of essential questions: "Yo, Billy Bob. Isn't this whole thing regarding Virginia Rometty simply, supremely stupid? Don't you feel just a bit dopey in being held up as a classic example of lug-headed sexism in America? Really now, is the world going to end merely by admitting an accomplished woman to your hallowed halls?"

And maybe this: "General Bullmoose, do you really want one of the great golf tournaments in sports to be overshadowed by the club's persistence in treating women like lower-caste scullery maids?"

Apparently the tone-deaf Payne and his fellow spittoons don't see the embarrassments they have become.

After all, it was Payne who so publicly castigated Tiger Woods for his failure as a role model after the golfer's highly publicized serial adultery was exposed.

Please. For a hypocritical misogynist like Payne to be passing judgment on Woods' status as a role model because he treated women badly is a bit like Rick Perry taking Newt Gingrich to task for running a lousy political campaign.

Augusta can't dig out from moral hazard 04/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 5:20pm]
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