Augusta National: "Welcome To The Real World"

Augusta National: "Welcome To The Real World"
Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore broke through the "grass" ceiling of Augusta National's men-only membership. Is a LPGA Masters Tournament far behind?

"“It’s 2012. Let’s get on with the real world here.”

1979 Masters Champion Fuzzy Zoeller, to columnist Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune

Today, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Rainwater, Inc.  Vice President Darla Moore woke up to their first full day bearing the distinction, "First female member of the Augusta National Country Club, home of the Masters Golf Tournament."

Shout it from the Amen Corner, folks! (note: You Augusta National men, and your female guests, already know the whereabouts of the "Amen Corner.")

Why Rice and Moore? Well, both women had been guests of club members and had played the course. Rice was recently appointed to the U.S. Golf Association's nominating committee. Members were familiar, and apparently comfortable with them. They are wealthy in their own rights, accomplished, and attractive--good "token females,"as it were. And as the Tribune speculates, they were under consideration long before yesterday's announcement, noting that the vetting process is a years-long procedure, often without the candidate's knowledge.

As Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement. " We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. 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.

"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."

When I heard the news of this glass ceiling (green ceiling?) being smashed, it reminded me of another story of exclusivity, when I was a little girl.

The one club that seemed worth joining in my Illinois village was the River Forest Tennis Club. To be in the club was to certify that your social status was guaranteed for life. 

Like most private clubs, invitations were from members only, required approval, and were very hard to come by.

When my family moved to River Forest, I was 12 years old. Next door to us lived the President/CEO of Replogle Globes. 

It so happened that their daughter was also the number one tennis player in Illinois at the time.

When our next door neighbors learned that the new family on the block was Lutheran, white and professional, with kids about the same age as theirs, and took tennis lessons at the River Forest Park District, they graciously extended an invitation to join the River Forest Tennis Club.  

Typical of the George and Betty Moore philosophy of equal rights and non-exclusionary practices, my parents just as graciously declined the invitation...without consulting the three kids.

"Why did you do that?" I cried to Mom. "No one will talk to us now! How am I going to make friends? You've ruined us!" 

"Because they don't let everybody in," Mom said, "If everyone can't be a part of it, neither will we." And she stood firm.

Please note: I am not saying that the Moores were better people. We were not. Just had different values.

Our neighbors were remarkably polite and respectful about my parents' decision, and we did make friends in the neighborhood. Many have been lifelong, and treasured.

But we weren't "in."  

Then, as now, private clubs have the right to make policies to admit, or decline memberships to anyone they want.  The members pay hefty dues to make these rules and live by them. Their money, their friends, their rights.

But the question has arisen many times with regard to Augusta National, and other men-only clubs: Just because a group has the right to be exclusive, should they exercise that right, in this day and age?

Case in point: When I started my career in public relations, those were the waning days of the Playboy Clubs, I knew I'd "arrived" when I received my own membership invitation to "bring my business clients in" for lunch, dinner, a drink, and "entertainment." The letter was signed by then-CEO Christie Hefner.

If Playboy invited me in, why not Augusta National?

Earlier this year, I had written about Augusta National, speaking of the "little balls" that determine who plays the game....and who doesn't. For the third time in a decade, Augusta National's men-only policy had elicited public outcry.  This time, there was one woman who had the right to be offered membership: new IBM chief Virginia "Ginny" Rometty, a graduate of Northwestern University's grueling engineering program (model Cindy Crawford had a scholarship from Northwestern for the same program.)  As the major tournament sponsor of the Masters,  three previous CEOs of IBM, all male, had been automatically offered invitations. 

Rometty was not.

However, invitation or not, Rometty rose to the occasion, both gracious and worthy of her position as the leader of IBM,  attending the Masters in a pink jacket, which stood out among the grass-green hue of the Augusta National membership jackets. She sat on the 18th hole.  And held her head high.

If a woman was found fit to lead a Fortune 100 corporation in 2012, might she also have earned her place as a member of Augusta National? Especially if she replaced a man as the head of the corporation? Clearly, the IBM Board of Directors could have hired another man. But they didn't.

Payne refused to provide a substantive answer, saying the club's membership decisions are private. Before that, despite protests organized in 2002 and 2003 by Martha Burk, then-president of the National Council of Women's Organizations, the leadership stood pat in their no-women-allowed outlook.  At the time of Burk's protest, then-chairman Hootie Johnson responded to questions about inclusion that the club someday might invite women to join, "but not at the point of a bayonet." When sponsors took a walk, the Masters Tournament ran without sponsorship for two years.

That's not unusual, though, because Augusta National always espoused "conservative" values. As cited by the Christian Science Monitor,  no African-Americans were allowed there until 1990, a scant 22 years ago, when they offered a membership to the the chief of Gannett Publishing,   Inc.

Can we now believe that Augusta National is "all-in" when it comes to including women?

To prove their newfound openness, and to open wide the doors of equality and opportunity, I suggest that Augusta National stage a new event: an LPGA version of the Masters....current #1 Yani Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Shanshan Feng, etc. Again, invitation-only. And the winner of the tournament receive everything the men's division gets...green jacket, presumed membership to the club, etc. Sponsorships and ratings, I predict, would go through the roof. And take pressure, eternally, off Augusta National.

And again, Augusta National, welcome to the real world.

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    This was a well written article by Alison Moran and she makes alot of valid points. I also think Augusta Nation should hold an LPGA version of the Masters. This would be great for the game of Golf. And above all this is 2012. So this is long overdue just like when African American were finally let in, in 1990.

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    Alison Moran

    Writing and broadcasting are my life, especially about women's sports and women's issues. I believe in God, Title IX, equal pay and equal rights for all mankind. Recently, I became the guardian of a beautiful, inquisitive little girl. Occasionally, you'll find me 'mommy blogging.' Read all about it!

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