That a day too long in coming has finally arrived probably shouldn’t touch off a celebration, but somehow this does. There was never a good reason for Augusta National not to include women among its membership. There was no reason beyond the stubbornness that human beings — both male and female, let’s stipulate — can sometimes mistake for “tradition.” But now the famous private club has admitted two women into its green-jacketed ranks, and that’s one less reason to regard Augusta National as the tin-eared old coot it has often seemed.
Yes, went the hollow argument, Augusta National is a private club and as such could admit whom it chooses. But Augusta National is a private club with a ragingly public face. It invites outsiders — at least those fortunate enough to land tickets — onto its premises for a week every April, and through television and the Internet and even iPhone and Android apps it invites the rest of us to partake of the Masters. It sells merchandise (lots of it) bearing the club logo. Given all that, could it reasonably argue that its membership rolls were of no concern?
Confronted by Martha Burk, former chairman Hootie Johnson sought to dig in his heels and succeeded only in digging a deeper hole. There was no way Augusta National could, in the 21st Century in these United State, remain stag much longer, and everyone who wore the green jacket had to know. Hootie held fast while Burk, who overplayed her hand, eventually went away, but the issue never did. It was raised again this spring, and Billy Payne chose to dodge the question during his annual Masters week briefing.
Say what you will about Billy Payne, but he is not tin-eared. The man who brought the world to Atlanta in the form of the 1996 Summer Olympics always figured to be the man who would admit women to the club on Magnolia Lane, and sure enough he was. Condoleezza Rice, once the Secretary of State, and Darla Moore, a financier known for philanthropy within her home state of South Carolina, are ideal choices, and having Rice, who is African-American, as one of the first women members of a club that not long ago included no African-American men is a most encouraging sign.
And, by adding Rice and Moore, Augusta National hasn’t just welcomed a woman. It has welcomed women, plural. “A joyous occasion,” Payne called it, via a press release, and it is. It should have been done long ago, but we take our breakthroughs where and when we find them. More Payne: “It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the Club opens this fall.”
Some may see this as the fall of one of the last bastions of male-dom, but here’s what we say to such folks: Come out of that cave, men. Nothing is the way it used to be, and a lot of what used to be wasn’t right and/or proper to begin with. Credit Payne for realizing that there’s a world outside the gates of a golf course. Credit him for being the man who finally made happen what needed to happen.
So long as Augusta National was men-only, the question would have been asked: “Why is it men-only?” There was no good answer to that, and there could never have been a good answer. The only right response was to render the question moot. Billy Payne has, and Augusta National is better for it. And so, in a small but significant way, are we.
By Mark Bradley