Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, announced on Monday that it had admitted its first two female members — former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore. The iconic, 80-year-old institution had faced a decade of increasing criticism over its all-male policy. Has Augusta, which admitted its first black member in 1990, silenced, once and for all, accusations of discrimination by offering Rice and Moore the green jackets that identify its elite members? Here, a brief guide:
How long had Augusta been under pressure to admit women?
The issue became a sore spot in 2002, when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations began publicly urging the club to admit women as members, instead of only letting them play as guests. In 2003, Burk led a small protest outside the club's gates during the Masters tournament, one of the four major championships and the most widely watched golf telecast. Augusta, proclaiming its decisions to be nobody else's business, decided to forego TV commercial sponsorships for two years to spare its backers pressure from women's groups. William "Hootie" Johnson, then chairman of Augusta, said the club might admit women one day, but on its own timetable "and not at the point of a bayonet."
Why is it making a change now?
Only the Georgia club's leaders — and its small, closed-door membership committee — know for sure. The complaints of sexism had died down for a few years, only to resurface at this year's Masters in April, after Virginia Rometty became chief executive of IBM, one of the high-profile tournament's corporate sponsors. Augusta had given memberships to the last four — male — IBM CEOs, but it didn't break with tradition for Rometty, who attended the tournament wearing a pink jacket, instead of a green one.
So was the decision to admit Rice and Moore rushed?
Probably not. The process of admission to Augusta can take years. The club's 300 or so members didn't apply for membership, they were invited; a small committee identifies prospects who are then vetted. A person familiar with the inner workings of the club says that Rice, an avid golfer, and Moore, a long-time friend of now-former Augusta chairman Johnson, came under consideration five years ago, a year after the current chairman, Billy Payne, took over. The past and former leaders reportedly agreed that the time was right, but that the club's first female members would go through the same lengthy process other members had.
Will this put the complaints of discrimination to rest?
Payne called this "a joyous occasion," and he surely meant it, says Michelle Cottle at The Daily Beast. With one painless and overdue move, "he effectively ended one of the weirdest skirmishes in America's culture war," and freed his club from having to defend "an increasingly defenseless position." But Augusta is not off the hook yet, says Sean Gregory at TIME. Title IX has been on the books since 1972 — it's absurd that "one of the most important institutions of a major sport was still refusing to admit women" until now. To prove it has really changed, Augusta will have to admit more women, fast. Two is not enough.
Sources: ABC News, The Associated Press, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, TIME
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