If you believe, even for a moment, that Augusta National caved under the pressure, bowed to Martha Burk or kow-towed to the insistent media, you probably still believe that Lance Armstrong is innocent. If you think that the Men of The Masters had to feel the heat in order to see the light, well, you didn’t hit Saturday night’s Powerball, either, did you?
Hootie Johnson did, indeed, famously say that Augusta National Golf Club would not admit female members “at the point of a bayonet.” But he didn’t mean there would never be women wearing green jackets. What he meant was that the club would include women members in its own time at its own pace.
Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are now members at Augusta National because they love golf and are two of the most powerful, influential women in the country. In that respect, they fit in perfectly on Magnolia Lane. That’s because practically every other member of the club has the same profile: they love golf and they are in a position to influence a great many people.
Rice, 57, was National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the President George W. Bush administration and she was one of the few people who unequivocally had the ear of the President. That’s about as much influence as you can wish for and her influence is and has been in the public arena.
Moore, 58, on the other hand, is much more private. She went to work for Chemical Bank in the 1980s and in short order was one of the more powerful women in banking. Fortune Magazine put her on its cover in 1997 under the headline, “The Toughest Babe In Business.”
She married Richard Rainwater in 1991 and Rainwater turned over his portfolio of companies to his new wife. She tripled the company’s net worth, which is now said to be in the neighborhood of $2.3 billion.
Moore is one of the largest private donors to the University of South Carolina, some $75 million over the years to the business school, which bears her name. She was the governor’s designated member of the school’s Board of Trustees from 1998-2011, until she was ousted by current Gov. Nikki Haley. Moore’s response was to pledge $5 million to the school for an aerospace research center, a project the governor persuaded the legislature to scrap.
Rice is well-known for her passion for golf and is public in her ardor. She counts among her friends Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who said he would reach out to Rice for a couple of practice rounds at the National prior to next spring’s Masters.
It’s called a private club for a reason: It’s private. And the members can feel free to conduct their business in the best interest of the members and the club and hopefully, for the community at large. Now, a private club like Augusta National that has such a public footprint because of the championship it conducts each spring should be inclusive. It has that societal responsibility.
But it’s not up to the media or Martha Burk to tell the club who it must choose or when. That would mean that we believe we know what’s best for Augusta National. That’s the club’s business, not ours.
When the club chose Ron Townsend as its first African-American member in 1990, it broke the color barrier during a time when Hall Thompson, the founder of Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., told the media that black members would not be welcome there. Shoal Creek, the site of that year’s PGA Championship, would become the signpost pointing toward the direction that golf would turn.
PGA Tour events that were held at clubs without black members, like Cypress Point in California and Butler National near Chicago, would no longer host those events and new venues were found.
However, Townsend, like every other Augusta National member, fit the profile perfectly. He was a 15 handicap and a “golf nut,” according to Hord Hardin, who was club chairman at the time. And Townsend was one of the most influential people in his field, then president of the Gannett Television Group.
But the hue and cry for clubs to include women members was not nearly as strong, primarily because most private clubs already had women in their ranks. But Augusta National did not and because of its position in the game, it was the target of people like activist Burk, who attempted to stage a rally outside the Augusta National gates in 2002, which attracted no more than 30 people.
Johnson, who was chairman of Augusta National from 1998-2006, said that he presented Moore’s name as a candidate for membership as early as 2002. Rightly or not, current chairman Billy Payne will get credit for orchestrating the move of admitting Rice and Moore. Also rightly or not, this will be seen as Payne’s lasting legacy.
Augusta National has long been seen by many across the country – and beyond – as the last bastion of the decadent old South, representing a time and place where the ruling class was white and male and everyone else was treated as no more than second-class citizens. Some people still believe that. The club’s members hope this action will serve as the announcement that the detractors could not be more wrong.