3 Reasons Why Augusta National Waited so Long to Admit Women

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIAugust 20, 2012

3 Reasons Why Augusta National Waited so Long to Admit Women

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    Augusta National Golf Club made history today by finally allowing women to become full members at one of the country’s most exclusive clubs.

    While it seems like it has taken forever for Augusta to become a coed club, they are the ones that write the rules of entry as they are a completely invitation-only private club.

    In choosing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, Augusta National chose two extremely influential women to break the barrier. Rice has never hidden her love of sports, and Moore is best known as a mover and shaker behind the scenes at the top of America’s financial scene.

    We can only guess as to why the club chose today to go forward, but here are three reasons why Augusta National—rightly or wrongly—waited until now to end its 80-year-old policy of male-only membership.

It Is a Private Club

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    As a private club, Augusta National gets to make up the rules for membership.

    Country club membership is a tricky thing. Pressure put on the PGA Tour after the 1990 PGA Championship at the whites-only Shoal Creek in Alabama forced the Tour to stop hosting tournaments that had whites-only memberships. That year, Augusta National accepted their first male African-American members.

    When Martha Burk decided to protest the gender discrimination at the 2003 Masters, the club was put immediately on the defensive and drew a line in the sand saying they would include females for membership when they chose and not because they were dictated to. They released CBS’ television sponsors from their obligations for two years, and Burk’s effort lost steam and became a footnote of history.

    We will never know how close Augusta National was before 2003 in integrating membership via gender, but Burk’s actions more than likely delayed the decision by a few years—maybe as much as 10.

    The people who dictate to their partners the language that can be used on the television broadcast and have banned Gary McCord after his usage of the words “bikini wax” and “body bags” on a telecast were not going to let anyone dictate the terms of acceptance, no matter how right she might have been or how pig-headed they looked because of it.

    They knew the law sided on their favor, and as much as Burk and others were going to push in public, they had no legal ground to stand on which to stand.

    Augusta National has always and will always march to the beat of their own drum.

They Needed the Right Members to Break the Barrier

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    Once publicly backed into a corner, Augusta National had to decide when and whom to invite, as they knew that allowing women would make headlines.

    The issue of women becoming members came up again before this year’s Masters when the new President and CEO of IBM, Virginia M. Rometty, was not given the automatic membership that her predecessors had. This had reopened the wounds to a degree from Burk’s protests and the public relations disaster that came with it.

    It was now obvious that there were some internal pressures to change the policy, and they had to find the right people to be first.

    With Rice and Moore, they found those people. Their professional resumes are impeccable, and they presumably will not make a big public deal about being the first women to become full members.

    Augusta could have taken the easier route and chosen a big golf name such as Annika Sorenstam or Nancy Lopez to be the first. Their professional careers are legendary and in all likelihood would have accepted the invite. Instead, they chose two women who have had a professional career equal to their male members in stature and magnitude.

    They went with two women that would be good members and not with just a golf name.

    Hopefully for Rometty, it will not be news when she becomes a full member as well.

Timing Is Everything

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    With apologies to Sergio Garcia, who won the rain-delayed Wyndham Championship this morning, the announcement by Augusta National could not have come at a better time and was well disguised.

    If they had chosen to do this in late March, the discussion about membership equality would have overshadowed the tournament. If they did it right after, it would have taken away from the winner and his publicity.

    By waiting until the dog days of August, Augusta National knows that whatever the fallout here will be long gone by the time the azaleas come into bloom next spring and the 2013 Masters rolls around.

    By going with a Monday release, it also does not overshadow the PGA Tour itself and the start of the playoffs.

    Chairman Billy Payne knew this was going to be big news which is why they actually had a press release to go public with their decision. Trying to find the right time to do that is tough, as they do not want to hurt the Tour by taking all the headlines away from the Tour.

    Augusta National has always and will always march to the beat of their own drum and we always listen to it march by.

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