It’s, what, 80 years too late? The Augusta National Golf Club opened its doors in 1932, and by then, women already had the right to vote. So why didn’t they have the right to swing a club into a blade of grass? Grass that, no matter what Augusta officials and CBS and other Masters devotees tell you, is not, in fact, the floor of some kind of church.
If you want to give Augusta some leeway — yes, those were much different times — is it maybe 30 years too late? Back then, Title IX had been on the books for ten years, Billie Jean King had beaten Bobby Riggs, and women were making progress on both ball fields and at the workplace.
At the very, very least, it’s a decade too late. By 2003, when Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, led a Masters-week protest against Augusta’s refusal to admit women, and Annika Sorenstam was on the verge of playing in a men’s tournament, Augusta should have changed its ways. By then, the fact that one of the most important institutions of a major sport was still refusing to admit women seemed absurd.
Yes, it’s late, but at least it has happened. Augusta National finally has female members.
Women have been allowed to play at Augusta, as guests. But before chairman Billy Payne, on Monday, announced that Augusta was admitting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and banking tycoon Darla Moore as its first female members, those green jackets were just for the guys. (Thank God, a fashion-conscious woman might reply). In a statement, Payne called the new memberships a “joyous occasion” and a “significant and positive time in our club’s history.” Payne also said “it will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.”
Said Rice, in a statement:
“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. I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world.”
Moore also issued a statement:
“I am honored to have accepted an invitation to join Augusta National Golf Club. Augusta National has always captured my imagination, and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April …. I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life. Above all, Augusta National and the Masters Tournament have always stood for excellence, and that is what is so important to me. I am extremely grateful for this privilege.”
Reached at her home in New Mexico, Burk was upbeat about the news. “My reaction was ‘we won,’” said Burk, now director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations. “It’s a victory for the U.S. women’s movement.” Sure, she says, Augusta should not have taken 80 years to admit its first women. But tardiness should not overshadow the significance of Augusta’s decision. “Is this really progress? Absolutely,” said Burk. “The doors are open.”
Burk, however, is far from satisfied. “How many women are going to be able to walk through the doors going forward?” she said. “That’s a very serious question.” Augusta refuses to talk about its membership process, and a club spokesman did not respond to an interview request. But Rice and Moore – who were both unavailable for interviews — are pretty safe bets to challenge the boys club. “I’m very pleased that they chose the women they chose,” Burk said. “They’re both groundbreakers, they’re both equal in stature to the existing membership, and they didn’t choose women who would be a shrinking violet, or, if you will, a second class member of the club. I think they made a very wise choice, and I applaud them for that.”
In 1993, Rice became the first woman, and African-American, provost in the history of Stanford University. During the George W. Bush administration, Rice, whose handicap slides between a 13 and 14, became the first female national security advisor, and the first African-American woman to be named Secretary of State.
In a 1997 Fortune cover profile, Moore, a partner at investment firm Rainwater Inc, said “she’s harassed guys all my life.” Fortune dubbed her “The Toughest Babe in Business.” In the 1980s, she specialized in bankruptcies at Chemical Bank. During a 1999 presentation at the Wharton School, Moore said “America blew up, largely as a result of greed, a total lack of perspective … and the over-leveraging of the corporate environment. I had watched all this going on and thought, ‘Keep financing his, boys, because you are creating business for me.” By the early 1990s, according to Fortune, Moore was the highest-paid woman in banking.
In 1991 Moore married investor Richard Rainwater, and took charge of Rainwater Inc, his investment firm. She almost tripled his net worth, according to Fortune, to $1.5 billion. After Rainwater put $66 million into Mesa, the oil and natural gas outfit founded by T. Boone Pickens, in 1996, Moore kicked Pickens out of the company. Similarly, she pushed current Florida governor Rick Scott out of the CEO position at Columbia/HCA, the health care operator, after the company became the subject of a criminal investigation for Medicare and Medicaid fraud (Scott was never personally charged; in the early 2000s, the company pled guilty to 14 corporate felonies and paid $1.7 billion in fines). Her friend, Martha Stewart, told Fortune that Moore is a “cutthroat killer underneath.”
Burk hopes that both Moore and Rice push for further change at Augusta National. “They need more women going forward, and they need to do it sooner rather than later,” Burk says. “I don’t want to be talking to you and other reporters ten years from now about the third woman they’ve let in.”