Augusta National finally sees the light

Rick Reilly discusses Augusta National's decision to admit Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members.

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No-girls-allowed advocates across the country will have to find a new spokesperson, because Augusta National just abdicated the crown.

The famously exclusionary private golf club, which hosts the very public Masters tournament each year, announced in a news release on Monday that it was welcoming former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore as members.

Two excellent choices -- Rice had been rumored as a candidate since the days when Martha Burk of the National Organization for Women wielded her picket signs. And Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, could also be on the road to membership. As a Masters sponsor, IBM's CEO is traditionally granted a green jacket, and Rometty attended her first Masters as the company's leader last spring. It would be a natural for her to be the next in line.

Moore
Moore
Rice
Rice

All three are wealthy, accomplished leaders -- the kind Augusta National has collected like butterflies over the past century. They just happen to be women, and that has thankfully ceased to be a reason for exclusion. Although regular folk -- teachers, lawyers, CEOs of small companies and royalty from lower-GDP countries -- shouldn't expect an invite in the mail anytime soon.

Augusta National went about bringing in its first female members in its own way. It would have been easy for the club to announce that Rometty would be a member once she became IBM's CEO, but that might have looked like it was allowing an outside circumstance to dictate policy.

Making one woman a member might have reeked of tokenism.

But two members? And with such enthusiasm?

The tone the club set Monday was hardly one of a bunch of grouses who had unwillingly yielded to public pressure.

To get a sense of the kind of change Augusta National just went through, consider that for years when asked about the possibility of a female member, spokesmen and members would issue a blanket response: We don't talk about membership.

On Monday, Augusta National ripped up the playbook. The club issued a news release about Rice and Moore, with a statement by club chairman Billy Payne that read:

"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."

"Passion." "Proud." "Significant and positive." That is the Augusta National equivalent of crying tears of relief and joy. The club backpedaling so hard that it better be careful not trip over its own feet. It's like clinging to your Rolodex until the moment you get a smartphone, and then wondering how you ever lived without it.

Augusta National has seen the light.

And it's been a long time coming. Augusta National is a private club that operates in the public sphere when it hosts the Masters each year. That puts it in a unique category, with sponsors and broadcasters weaving a partnership during the event.

"At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

NOW's Burk famously protested the club's exclusionary practices beginning in 2002, only to have then-chairman Hootie Johnson assert that the club wouldn't be forced into accepting women "at the point of a bayonet."

Augusta National was the standard bearer for the segment of society that thwarted women at each step of their progress, as they fought to get into universities and onto playing fields and forged inroads into each of the small boys' clubs they encountered along the way.

Now one of the most obdurate holdouts has given up the fight.

It's about time.

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