The debate as to whether Augusta National Golf Club should allow membership to women has been going on for quite some time. Yesterday, for the first time in its 80 year history, the club announced that if has approved two female members, both of whom accepted the offer of membership. Those two women are former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, in his statement, proclaimed: “This is a joyous occasion”. Payne has reportedly been trying to get women accepted into the club for several years, but until now his efforts had been fruitless. In a well known quote, former club chairman Hootie Johnson previously stated that Augusta might one day allow women to wear the famous green jacket, “but not at the point of a bayonet.” Johnson’s comment was in response to outside pressure from women’s groups that were attempting to force the club to admit women.
While this is certainly a victory for women’s rights groups, to me it seems to be a hollow victory. I see this as a move Augusta National felt they had not make, not a move they really wanted to make. They waited until the external pressure died down to offer membership to two very high profile women so that they could pound their chest and declare that they made this decision on their own terms. In a way, this was a nominal gesture on the club’s behalf so that they could reap the whirlwind of public relations benefits that are sure to accompany it.
80 years of ingrained traditions are not going to simply disappear because two women are now members of the club. It’s still going to be a group of “good old boys” who will to continue behave as they have before and continue to believe what they have believed.
I’m sure there are members of the club who are going to welcome women into the fold; but there are also members who are going to go out of their way to make it miserable for these new members. This is where we will be able to truly find out how Augusta National feels about finally taking down the “no girls allowed” sign from their hallowed grounds: when (not if) someone goes out of their way to make things unpleasant for one of these two women, how does the leadership of Augusta deal with the offender? Will they get a stern talkin’ to, or will true and fair discipline be dispatched?