News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 26, 2012

ON AND OFF THE COURSE: Women members at Augusta welcome news

Jennifer Myers
Tribune-Star Correspondent

TERRE HAUTE — There was some big news last week in the world of golf, the first item being that Augusta National Golf Club issued a news release at a time nowhere near Masters week.

That was almost big enough news in itself. It was so out-of-character for this private, elite club. The news the club was releasing though, was even bigger; that Augusta National was welcoming two WOMEN to its ranks!

The first sign of any chink in the armor of Augusta National showed back in 1990 when it was pressured, along with some other private clubs, to allow black men as members. That was when the controversy at Shoal Creek came into play. The private Alabama club, which was getting ready to host the PGA Championship that year, came under fire for not allowing blacks as members. It was an unwritten rule, but Hall Thompson, the founder of Shoal Creek, told reporters that black members weren’t allowed at the country club because “that’s just not done in Birmingham.” The PGA policy at the time chose tournament sites based on operational advantages rather than specific membership policies.

Six major corporations pulled their TV ads until, one week before the tournament, the club’s board accepted a black businessman as an honorary member and a second black man was granted a regular membership. Because of this controversy, the PGA changed its rules so that clubs that discriminated on the basis of race or gender would no longer be allowed to host a PGA event.

Augusta National, under similar pressure at the time, opened its doors to black members, but not to women. Since then, the Masters hasn’t been an “official” PGA event, even though the points count and it’s still considered a major tournament; because it is not run by the PGA, it had an excuse to ignore the rule.

When Martha Burke and the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) asked the club in a “polite letter in 2002” (according to an article written by Burke in CNN Opinion) to reconsider its stand against women, it raised the ire of the members and the chairman Hootie Johnson. The NCWO made the membership roster public for the first time, it became clear that the CEOs of many fortune 500 companies didn’t regard sex discrimination as a problem. Burke wrote, “They cowered behind their mahogany desks and refused to make a statement — never mind resign from the club.”

Even I, a female golfer, did not want the members of the club to start admitting women in order to submit to pressure. I valued their right to adhere to tradition and have an all-male club. I hoped that someday some enterprising women would build an all-female club, that a group of men would protest outside the gates, clamoring for the right to be members. However, in April of this year, when questions were raised about whether or not the current IBM CEO, who is a woman, would be invited to join the club, as the previous four CEOs had been, then I began to see the men of Augusta as an old-men’s club and a sexist group.

Now that they have admitted women, I would hope that segment of the members will continue to grow. I don’t imagine that they’ll form a ladies’ golf group that plays every week, but at least they will be granted the privileges, for golf and business, that the men have previously enjoyed.

The times they are a-changing, and for the better, I might add. Finally!

• Quote of the Day — “This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club. This is a significant and positive time in our club’s history…” — Augusta National chairman Billy Payne in his Aug. 20 statement.

Jennifer Myers can be reached by e-mail at