Keeping Score

Will Augusta National Finally Offer Membership to a Woman?

On the eve of the Masters, Augusta officials may face new questions about its controversial male-only membership policy, thanks to IBM's new CEO.

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Imaginechina via AP Images

Ginni Rometty, Senior Vice President of IBM, delivers a speech at the IBM Forum 2011 in Beijing, March 25, 2011.

We’re a week away from the Masters, and this year’s event might cause controversy once again.

As Bloomberg reported, the storied — and stuffy — Augusta National club faces a dilemma, thanks to Virginia “Ginny” Rometty’s rise to the top of IBM this year. The company is a Masters sponsor, and Augusta traditionally extends a membership offer to the IBM’s CEO. Will Augusta’s members, who famously wear green blazers, finally admit a woman for the first time since the club was founded in 1933? Or will Augusta possibly offend one of its key sponsors and suffer another p.r. backlash?

It seems like a simple call: just let Rometty in. But Augusta has refused to bow to public pressure. Hootie Johnson, the former club chairman, said in 2003 that the club’s policy on women members wouldn’t change “if I drop dead right now.” At the conclusion of last year’s tournament, a female sports columnist, Tara Sullivan of the Bergen (N.J.) Record, was prohibited from entering the locker room to conduct interviews, and thus from doing her job. (The club apologized, saying an Augusta guard made a mistake in denying Sullivan access to the locker room.)

(MORE: Getting Teed Off)

We’ll enjoy watching Augusta sweat this one out. In 2010, when Tiger Woods returned to golf from his sex scandal, current Augusta chairman Billy Payne gave a condescending press conference criticizing Tiger Woods’ trysts. “Our hero did not live up to the expectations of a role model that we sought for our children,” he said.

As if excluding women is something for kids to look up to.

Rometty plays golf, according to Bloomberg, but not avidly. Neither IBM nor Augusta National responded to Bloomberg’s requests for comment on Rometty’s membership status, or lack thereof. Payne is scheduled to hold an April 4 news conference on the eve of the Masters. He can expect a flood of questions about the CEO’s status.

What an opportunity to break with tradition — and give a woman a green jacket.

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