Did IBM Force Augusta National to Admit Women Members?

Fred AltvaterContributor IIAugust 21, 2012

Billy Payne is the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club
Billy Payne is the Chairman of Augusta National Golf ClubScott Halleran/Getty Images

Most of us will never know the feeling of being asked to be a member of Augusta National Golf Club.  It’s a difficult process just obtaining a ticket to attend the Masters each year.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are both very accomplished women and the world learned of their admission to Augusta National as the club’s first women members just yesterday.

Augusta National broke from its 80-year tradition of inviting men only to become members of the club that annually hosts the Masters.

Membership to Augusta National is a very private matter.  Members at the club rarely address the media or discuss club business or procedures. 

Women’s activist Martha Burk campaigned for admission of women to the elite club beginning in 2003.  Hootie Johnson who was the club’s chairman at the time explained that the club would not bow to pressure and admit women as members.  They would follow normal policy and procedure. 

Augusta National has a long standing policy of granting membership to the president or chief operating officer of companies that become sponsors of the Masters.

In October, 2011 IBM installed Virginia Rometty as President and Chief Executive Officer.  Questions were asked if Augusta National would honor its policy of granting membership to Ms. Rometty.

With no female members, Augusta National found itself digging a deeper hole for itself over the question whether or not to allow women members.

Do you think there were discussions about the admission of IBM’s President Rometty as a member versus losing IBM’s sponsorship?

IBM likely had more influence on the admission of women as members at Augusta National than Martha Burk or public outcry could ever hope to have.  

Augusta National’s Chairman Billy Payne explained (via ABC Local) that the membership to the club is a very deliberate procedure.  A candidate is mentioned among the members and that person goes through a five- or six-year process to determine their suitability prior to being officially asked to become a member.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore may have been discussed as possible members for several years among the membership at Augusta National but it seems that their official invitations may have been hastened by the predicament the club found itself in with no women members and a new woman president of one of its sponsoring companies.

As most things in this world, the decision to admit Ms. Rice and Ms. Moore as members to Augusta National was driven more by a monetary consideration than a moral obligation to correct a sexual inequality issue among the membership.

For whatever reason Augusta National decided to admit women members, it is a momentous occasion and should be applauded. 

The last bastion of male dominance in the golf world now becomes the Royal & Ancient. 

Has Augusta National forced the door open for the R&A to add women to its illustrious membership?