Augusta National announces first female members


Augusta National Golf Club has invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first women members, the club confirmed in a statement early Monday.

Both women have accepted the membership, which begins with the club’s new season in October, ending 80 years of all-male membership.

“This is a joyous occasion,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a statement released by the club.

In 2002, Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, sent a letter to then-chairman Hootie Johnson asking the club to admit a female member. Johnson declined the request and released a scathing response saying the club would not be forced to change its membership policy “at the point of a bayonet.”

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The issue surfaced again this year after Virginia Rometty was appointed chief executive of IBM, one of the Masters’ corporate sponsors. The four previous IBM CEOs had all been members, leading to speculation Rometty would become the first woman to receive a green jacket.

The club, which opened in 1932 and did not admit a black member until 1990, normally admits new members at the start of its season in the fall.

Payne declined to address the issue in April saying, “As has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members.”

That makes Monday’s announcement regarding Rice and Moore a dramatic, albeit understandable, break in club policy. The club sent out a similar statement in 1990 when it admitted its first black member.

“Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different,” said Payne, who took over as chairman when Johnson retired in 2006.

“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.”

A source close to the situation told The Associated Press that Rice and Moore were first considered for membership five years ago, four years after Burk led a protest of about 30 supporters in a lot down the street from the club during the Masters. The source also said prospective members often are not aware they are being considered.

Moore, 58, first rose to prominence in the 1980s with Chemical Bank, where she became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry. She is vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater.

Moore, who worked with Johnson on South Carolina's $300 million capital campaign in the late 1990s, was mentioned as a possible Augusta National member during the height of the all-male membership debate in 2002.

“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,” Moore told the AP. “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.”

Johnson said in a statement to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., “This is wonderful news for Augusta National Golf Club and I could not be more pleased. Darla Moore is my good friend, and I know she and Condoleezza Rice will enjoy the club as much as I have.”

Rice, 57, was the national security adviser under former President George W. Bush and became secretary of state in his second term. The first black woman to be a Stanford provost in 1993, she now is a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and recently was appointed to the U.S. Golf Association’s nominating committee.

“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,” Rice said in a statement. “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.”

Reaction to the news across the golf world was widely supportive.

“The PGA Tour commends Augusta National Golf Club on the news that it has invited Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore to become its first women members,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. “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.”

Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods also applauded the move, telling the AP, “The decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf.”

Although the club didn’t allow female members until now, women regularly play the venerable course, including the Sunday before the Masters.

“It’s inexcusable that it lasted this long,” said LPGA player Jan Stephenson, who has played the club a half-dozen times. “The women baby boomer will become the richest market in the world in the next 10 years. It’s going to be a major positive and great timing for good will for Augusta National and women’s golf. This is not a man’s world. Look at how many presidents of major companies are women now.”

Burk also felt like the move was overdue but applauded Monday’s announcement as step in the right direction. “It came sooner than I expected. I thought they were going to try to outlast me,” she told the AP. “I really thought they would wait until the women’s movement would get no credit. But if we had not done what we did, this would not have happened now.”