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Sunday, May 6, 2012
Billionaire backs women at Augusta

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, a member of Augusta National Golf Club, said he would have women members if he were running the club.

The home to the Masters golf tournament has long maintained a policy of not having women members, despite pressure in recent years, including at last month's event won by Bubba Watson. Buffett is the only known member so far to speak out.

"I'm not telling the group at Augusta what to do, but if I were running the club I'd have plenty of women," Buffett, 81, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television following his company's annual meeting Saturday in Omaha, Neb.

Warren Buffett
"I'm not telling the group at Augusta what to do, but if I were running the club I'd have plenty of women," said Warren Buffett, 81, who is a club member.

The club has again come under scrutiny after Bloomberg revealed in March that IBM had promoted Virginia Rometty to chief executive officer. The 78-year-old club in Georgia has traditionally invited the IBM CEO to be a member, putting it at odds with its own policy.

Asked several times during a pre-tournament news conference April 4 about the issue, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne stood by the club's policy of not discussing membership issues.

"We don't talk about our private deliberations,'' Payne said. "We especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question.''

That answer was in response to a question about Rometty, who was at the tournament -- IBM is one of the Masters' main corporate sponsors -- but has yet to speak about the issue.

Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns a 5.5 percent stake in IBM, according to Bloomberg. He said he was aware of the policy when he joined, has no plans to resign, but is not part of membership process.

"I might prefer having female members, but I'm not on the committee,'' he said.

According to Bloomberg, Rometty, 54, succeeded Sam Palmisano this year. He had been CEO since 2002 and remains chairman. Along with the CEOs of others Masters sponsors Exxon Mobil Corp. and AT&T, he is a member of the club, which has a right to set its own rules as a private club.

But because it hosts a very public tournament and has been at the forefront of grow-the-game initiatives around the world, Augusta National has seen increased pressure to have a woman among its membership.

The club does not deny access to women, who can play the course as guests.