Augusta National Golf Club, long revered by the golfing world as the Sistine Chapel of their sport, announced with great pride (a “joyous occasion,” according to Augusta Chairman Billy Payne) that it had invited bureaucrat Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to join the club as its first female members.
For decades, Augusta National has defiantly withstood public criticism and pressure to admit female members on the basis that as a private institution the club is under no obligation to accept anyone – regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual preference – who does not pass muster with the boys who hold the keys to the front door.
Ever since golfing legend and bona fide Southern gentleman Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National some 80 years ago, the club has served as the stage for the Masters Tournament, considered by many as golf’s most important international competition, perhaps with exception of the Ryder Cup. And it’s Augusta National’s association with the history and tradition of the Masters that provides the club with a level of prestige (and arrogance) that exceeds St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined.
During his days as Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates faced Augusta National’s arrogance first-hand when denied club membership for publicly stating that he wanted to be a member. As punishment, Augusta forced Gates to eat crow for several years before he was allowed to wear a member’s green jacket.
But Augusta National’s bullying isn’t limited to their admission process. A little known fact is that once admitted to the club, a member is not assured of continued membership and may be dropped at any time for any reason with no explanation. In fact, the only way Augusta National members know if they are still members is by the arrival of their annual dues invoice in Spring. No invoice means your invitation has been withdrawn.
Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about power. It features a golf course that’s closed for a good part of the year to protect the pristine fairways and sacred greens that its well-heeled members rarely play on. Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about prestige. The club bestows membership to America’s corporate royalty the same way the Queen of England awards knighthoods and MBE titles…but with far less intelligence and transparency than the British monarchy.
The sad truth is that women have nothing to cheer over the “joyous occasion” at Augusta. This publicity stunt does not represent a meaningful change in the club’s policy of exclusion, and provides Augusta National with convenient and high profile validation that it will continue to exercise its right, as a private club, to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.
If Condi and Darla are serious about playing golf, there are scores of world-class private clubs that have been accepting women as members for many decades. And if Condi and Darla are serious about advancing the cause of women’s rights, they should decline Augusta National’s invitation. And they should make a lot of noise in the process.