Augusta National and the Importance of 'My Idea'

By John Gorman

You can do a lot of opining today about whether letting women become members at Augusta National is good or bad or even relevant as a milepost on the highway of social progression.

You can do a lot of reading of folks who’ll take a side, and a lot of people already have, with “Welcome to the 21st Century” appearing an alarming amount in a miniscule amount of time or a bunch of bass-ackwards folks who’ll dig real hard into their trenches with “Is there no sacred domain left for men?” and that’s fine. This column ain’t about that.

This column’s about why Augusta National made the decision it made, and why they made it now.

For years, Martha Burk, Chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, had been fighting to get women access to Augusta National Golf Club. But her protest, her watershed moment when the spotlight shined brightest on Augusta National, occurred nearly a decade ago.

What took Augusta National so long? You’ll likely hear two conflicting viewpoints, depending on the source (I’m speculating, of course). Augusta National will likely say something to the tune of:

“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.”

Wait, that’s a pull-quote.

That it took them so long to find accomplished, worthy women who also happen to golf is total B.S. and if you’re warm-blooded with an IQ over 65 you already know this. But, it’s an exclusive club and to gain access into any exclusive club the members are going to need to be overwhelmingly on board with bringing you on-board.

But there’s a second viewpoint which is similarly incomplete: That it took them this long to realize how wrong they were. You’re going to hear a lot of that, too. But those folks are either trying to get one last twist of the knife in before criticism becomes moot, or they’re not aware of the way groupthink and pride intersect to stall progressive decision-making.

It’s not easy to admit you’re wrong, even when you know you are. I have no doubt once the depth and breadth of protests against Augusta National became evident that the members took a good hard look and thought “We should probably do something about this.” But, often times, when you’re dealing with ethical dissonance, you try not to appear weak. Especially in the face of immense public pressure. (For reference, see how George W. Bush’s administration stuck hard to their assertion Iraq was a threat to the United States even after an investigation revealed no presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction inside the country’s borders.)

Change is slow, but not for the reason you think. People are much more likely to take a given course of action when they believe it’s their idea or when they believe the public will perceive it as their idea. Those conditions are more likely to occur when the cries for a change of heart dry up. The calls for Augusta National to admit women as members isn’t what it was in 2003. It isn’t what it was even in 2005, 2007 or 2009. Augusta National has a lot of pride. It’s a bunch of successful, elite, traditional white men. That’s a prideful group, often to their own detriment.

And that pride caused them to lay low, and wait. Wait for when we weren’t thinking about them, or calling for them to change their ways.

And in the dead of summer, when nobody was thinking about Augusta National, when the real golf season is over (The PGA concluded last week), and the Masters are eight months away and the club had yet to open its doors for their season, Augusta National made a symbolic move out of nowhere, ensuring it would seem like a massive coup-d-teat, a change of heart unprovoked by outside pressure and put forth merely by the good graces of the powers-that-be.

The decision to admit women to Augusta National was likely made a long, long time ago. Often times, when something so common sense seems so common sense, and you’re on the wrong side of the argument, your hubris causes you to wait.

Is it right? Hell, no. But it happens. And often times, one’s own inability to admit they’re wrong in public far outweighs not just common sense, but even the actual level of evil that we believe runs counter to it.

Augusta National did the right thing today. By bringing in women, they admitted they were wrong. But they did it on their own terms. And that’s the part that mattered most to them, and what they wanted us to take away from this.

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