The announcement Monday by the rulers of the previously all-male Augusta National Golf Club that it had accepted its first two female members landed like an errant golf shot that takes a surprisingly fortunate kick toward the hole.
It was good to see, but a surprise nonetheless. And while we’ll withhold the lusty and now predictable gallery shout of “you the man” in response, we’re happy to provide a polite golf clap for a decision long overdue.
The 80-year-old Georgia club, which hosts the Masters tournament each April, has been long vilified or hailed for sticking to its guns on a policy in which all its members were men. The club has responded for a decade or more to its critics with the admonition that it would perhaps change when it was good and ready and would not do so at “the point of a bayonet,” as former Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson famously stated in 2002 when a women’s organization protested the club’s position.
Apparently, that day arrived under the guidance of current chairman Billy Payne, who took the job with a vow to bring about change. Payne called the acceptance of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore into the club as “a joyous occasion.”
The private club, with a membership believed to number around 300, gave no reason for the change. It has a long history of exclusion and did not have a black member until 1990. Before Monday’s announcement, women were allowed to play the famed golf course as guests.
And while the club was well within its rights as a private entity to remain a male-only institution, it’s heartening to see the doors swing open to women, who are gaining more clout every day in corporate America. The biggest reason has little to do with golf and everything to do with influence. The membership at Augusta National consists of many of the nation’s leading power brokers. If major corporate or political decisions are made there, then it’s reasonable and correct to include equally powerful women.
An example of such exclusion occurred last spring. According to the Charlotte Observer, the new chief executive officer of IBM, Virginia Rometty, has not been invited to join Augusta National. The previous four IBM CEOs, all men, were Augusta National members.
Now Rice and Moore will join Augusta National with two other high-profile new members — computer impresario Bill Gates and financial wizard Warren Buffett.
That’s a power foursome we’d let play through any time.