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Augusta National Golf Club admits Condoleezza Rice, S.C. businesswoman

By Steve Hummer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution –

ATLANTA — For the last decade it has been a Masters tradition, as much a part of tournament week as the odes to Amen Corner and the sniffles of reverent patrons as they parade through the pollen.

The Augusta National Golf Club chairman would surface for his pre-tournament news conference. And the world’s media would have at him about the ultra-exclusive Georgia club’s refusal to include women as members.

With Monday’s announcement that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore had been admitted to the onetime bastion of male privilege, that unseemly tradition may have come to an end.

“This is a joyous occasion,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a statement issued through the club.

“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership,” he continued. “It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall (mid-October).

“This is a significant and positive time in our club’s history.”

Martha Burk, the pugnacious feminist who led a well-publicized but lightly attended protest near the club’s gates during the 2003 Masters, suggested there might be one more question for Payne come next April’s news conference.

“Ask him why he didn’t do it a hell of a lot sooner,” she said.

Often loud and voluble while urging the private club to opt for inclusion, Burk summed up her feelings succinctly Monday.

“Two words: We won.”

Normally, the membership activities of Augusta National are closely guarded secrets. Yet Monday’s announcement, while not revealing any details of the decision-making, came with something approaching fanfare.

As guests of members, both Rice and Moore have played at Augusta National on multiple occasions. They will be welcomed into one of the most exclusive enclaves in golf, the club’s membership numbering around only 300 of the country’s rich and powerful.

Rice, 57, is by far the most well-known of the two, having been national security adviser and Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush. She currently is a professor at Stanford. An avid golfer, Rice has been an honorary chairman of an event on the professional senior tour and reportedly is also a member at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Ala., and Cypress Point in California. She is, according to some reports, a 16-handicapper.

While working for Chemical Bank in the 1980s, Moore, 58, became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry. In 1998-99, Forbes named her among the 50 most powerful women in business. She currently is vice president of Rainwater, a private investment company.

“I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity,” Rice said in a release issued through the golf club.

“I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life,” added Moore.

Moore is a friend of fellow South Carolinian Hootie Johnson, the former Augusta National Chairman who during the height of Burk’s protest famously declared that the club would consider women for membership “but not at the point of a bayonet.”

Payne succeeded Johnson as chairman in 2006, and now the man credited with bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta will also be known as the one who ushered the first women members through the doors of the antebellum Augusta National clubhouse. A club spokesman could not directly answer the question of whether Augusta National would need to add a women’s locker room or women’s tee boxes to the premises, pointing out that women were comfortable in the past playing at the club and that they would continue to find their surroundings comfortable.

The issue of women’s membership was persistent. One thing that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have publicly agreed upon on the campaign trail is that Augusta National should admit women members. When IBM promoted a woman, Virginia Rometty, to CEO, she notably was the only one of the last five leaders of that major Masters sponsor not made a club member. At last April’s Masters news conference, Payne was asked seven times in various ways about the exclusion of women. Many of the questions involved the seeming contradiction between Payne’s stated desire to grow the game of golf while restricting membership at his club to men only.

Burk contended that the outside pressure applied to the club finally became too much to resist and that most recently, “the black eye the club took over the Virginia Rometty thing had to have impacted it some.”

Around the game of golf, there was a general sense of both relief and celebration that such a divisive issue had been settled.

“Great news — Augusta National admits its first female members in 80 years,” Tweeted three-time Masters champion Gary Player.

Tiger Woods, whom Payne rebuked after the scandal of his multiple affairs, now has one new friend among the Masters membership (he knows Rice through a mutual acquaintance at Stanford). He applauded Monday’s news through a statement: “I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf. The club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice.”

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