Lloyd Ward, one of a handful of black members at Augusta National, said he was 'committed to breaking down barriers which exclude women from membership at Augusta in the weeks and months ahead.''
Amid signs that some Augusta National members were backing away from the club's hard-line stance on the issue, the former president of Ford Motor Co. also said he thought there would be female members at the exclusive club that hosts the Masters golf tournament.
'I think there will be (a woman member) at some time in the future,'' Harold 'Red'' Poling said from his suburban Detroit home. 'I have a lot of faith in Hootie. Everyone would like to see issues such as this resolved.''
Ward made his comments in a letter to Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which is spearheading the drive to include women among Augusta National's 300 members.
It was the first time Ward had commented on the issue since saying in April he would work behind the scenes to allow women into the club, and it was the strongest public statement in support of female members by any member yet.
'I am working with others who are members of Augusta National Golf Club who share the belief that the organization should include women in its membership ranks,'' Ward wrote. 'It is my intent to aggressively work for that reform.''
Club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said Augusta National would have no comment on the issue, likely to be a matter of hot debate when the club reopens later this month after a summer shutdown in Augusta, Ga.
Burk, though, said the fact that some members are now speaking publicly means the argument over female members will only grow louder.
'I applaud their leadership,'' Burk said. 'I believe others will join them and this will be resolved sooner rather than later.''
Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson, who is recovering from heart surgery, vowed in June that the club would not be 'bullied'' into admitting women as members.
Last month, Johnson dropped three TV sponsors from the 2003 Masters in an attempt to shield the club from further controversy.
Burk earlier wrote to more than 20 CEOs who are members of Augusta National, asking them to admit a woman. She received a reply last week from a representative of Citigroup chairman Sanford I. Weill expressing his guarded support for female members.
Ward's letter went beyond that, though, and seemed to confirm earlier reports by The New York Times that there is a group of members inside Augusta National pushing for the reform.
Ward is in a delicate position. He is not only one of a few black members at Augusta but also head of the U.S. Olympic organization that pushes strongly for equal rights in sports.
'He's been very reluctant to make any public statement before,'' Burk said. 'Maybe he was empowered by Sanford Weill's statement.''
Burk wasn't so happy about two other responses she received Monday from Augusta members. One came from Christopher B. Galvin, chief executive of Motorola, and the other from Rep. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y.
Both said in brief replies that they supported equal rights but that the matter was one for the club to discuss in private.
'It's absolutely astounding that a sitting congressman would have the gall to give the back of his hand to half of his constituents,'' Burk said.