AUGUSTA — Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne declined on Wednesday to answer several questions about the possibility of the club adding a female member. The club has never had a female member. The topic is in the news because of the appointment of Virginia Rometty as CEO of IBM. Augusta National has traditionally invited the CEO of IBM, one of the sponsors of the Masters, to be a member.
Here is a copy of the exchanges during Payne’s state of the Masters speech. At one point, following the questions about growing the game, Payne stared down the questioner after he kept asking:
Q. You began talking about a number of the changes that happened here at the course. Since you’ve been Chairman, all of those changes have been well‑documented. One of the changes that has not happened to the Club is the all‑male Membership. Wonder if you ever foresee that changing, and why or why not.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of Membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the Members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement.
Q. Is it possible to elaborate further on why Membership for Mrs. Rometty wouldn’t be considered, just to give us a little more spiel on that.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I guess two reasons: One, we don’t talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don’t talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question.
Q. Mr. Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don’t you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, that deals with a Membership issue, and I’m not going to answer it.
Q. No, it doesn’t.
Q. Seems like a mixed message, Billy, is what he’s saying. You’re throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there’s still a perception that certain people are excluded.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That is a Membership issue that I’m not going to ‑‑ thank you for your ‑‑
Q. It sends ‑‑
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you.
Q. It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club; it’s not a Membership question.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you for your question, sir.
Q. Mr. Chairman, as a grandfather, what would you say to granddaughters? How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, though expressed quite artfully, I think that’s a question that deals with Membership, and ‑‑
Q. It’s a kitchen‑table, personal question.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also personal. (Laughter.)
Q. Billy, kind of on that note, you talked about what a great Masters it was last year and how much anticipation there is coming into this year’s Masters. I’m curious how you felt when this issue comes up again on the eve of the Masters, and do you feel it reflects negatively on either the Club or the Tournament?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think there’s certainly a difference of opinion on that, and I don’t think I have formed an opinion on that, Doug. But certainly there’s ‑‑ people have different opinions on that subject.
Q. You said your conversations with your granddaughters are private. What would you suggest I tell my daughters?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don’t know your daughters.
Q. What without them, that the most prestigious golf club in the country, they are not ‑‑
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I have no advice for you there, sir.
– Doug Roberson, AJC