Augusta National may avoid further scrutiny with female members | Golf | CBC Sports

GolfAugusta National may avoid further scrutiny with female members

Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 | 08:44 AM

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, is one of the first two female members at Augusta National Golf Club. (Mark Ralston/Getty Images) Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, is one of the first two female members at Augusta National Golf Club. (Mark Ralston/Getty Images)

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The old guard at Augusta National Golf Club must be patting itself on the back now that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore have the right to don the green jacket as its first female members. 

It is almost embarrassing to be writing this piece because it's considered news that one of the most, ahem, august golf clubs in North America has finally admitted two female members.

The old guard at Augusta National must be patting itself on the back now that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore have the right to don the green jacket.

Both women run in the rarified air of U.S. (mostly white and male) high society that has roots in the south and tends to vote overwhelmingly Republican.

Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration (you can almost hear the self-congratulatory zingers in Butler Cabin), is African-American, too. She joins a handful of black members dating back to the admitting of the first in 1990.

Her interest in golf is well known.

By all accounts, she is a wonderful woman who has overcome massively long odds growing up black and female in Alabama. Since leaving politics, she has returned to Stanford University to teach.

Moore is an uber-connected financier from South Carolina, who, according to media reports, is friends with former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson.

I'm not qualified to comment on how this may inspire young women, for obvious reasons. But this move again smells of Augusta National managing to pull off a caper just ahead of a real firestorm.

The club did it 22 years ago, when it admitted its first black member just as that issue was about to come to a boil because the PGA Tour was embroiled in a controversy over the Shoal Creek club in Rice's home state. Shoal Creek almost lost the right to host the PGA Championship, when it became clear that it had an unofficial policy against having black members.

'Not at the point of a bayonet' 

The question of admitting women has been on the front burner for a decade, ever since activist Martha Burk led a fruitless protest during tournament week just ahead of Canadian Mike Weir's victory in 2003.

At the time, Johnson declared: "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership. But that timetable will be ours -- and not at the point of a bayonet."

The club held off for close to a decade -- and surely considers that a victory -- but the time was nigh to finally cross the gender threshold.

"I think the 'point of a bayonet' was indicative of the mindset, not only of Hootie but the steering body," Burk remarked on Monday.

"No, I don't think it would have happened sooner. They had no intention of having a woman member."

So what does all this mean?

The most immediate effect will be that Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who called it a "joyous occasion," will now escape the uncomfortable questions about the issue next April during tournament week. This, of course, was the same man who sold the world the shambolic Atlanta Olympics and who felt it appropriate to scold Tiger Woods about his off-course infidelities two years ago.

A fine, upstanding southern gentleman that Mr. Payne. Just don't ask him about private club matters.

Perhaps my opinion would be different if I had covered a Masters in the flesh. I have not. But certainly hope to some day. Anyone who has ever been to Augusta National raves about the hospitality and sheer beauty of the place. Television cameras, I'm told, don't do it justice. At least that's what people say who are lucky enough to have been.

'We don't get to determining'

This is the latest incident of Augusta National getting away with playing dirty pool because of its stellar hosting effort every year. The club manages to shield itself from real scrutiny because it operates independently from the PGA Tour and it sets itself up on a series of year-to-year contracts with sponsors and CBS Television. Ask too many ticklish questions and sponsors and the network may not be asked back.

Augusta National's relationship with the tour has always seemed a bit like the tail wagging the dog, at least for a week every year.

"We don't get to determining whether their policies are right or wrong because we don't have to," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem remarked in May.

As a private club, Augusta National has the right to do as it pleases, though the fact it benefits enormously from hosting a very public event should have long ago forced it to come clean about its membership policies -- first toward blacks and other minorities and now, finally, women.

The hypocrisy has always hung in the air. But like so much about Augusta National and the Masters, it was always covered up by the spectacle and the sweet smell of springtime in Georgia.

The scent is less repugnant now.

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