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Augusta National ‘Fraternity’ Goes Coed, Opens Its Doors for Female Golfers

August 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
In a surprise move, Augusta National Golf Club ended its men-only membership policy and invited two women to join: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore. Ray Suarez speaks to USA Today's Christine Brennan about the club's decision to accept female members.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next: The home of one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, the Masters, admits women for the first time.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: One of the most exclusive private golf clubs in the country, Augusta National, has been under pressure to admit women for years.

Today, the club chairman announced former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore have accepted membership invitations. The news comes a decade after the former club chairman said women wouldn’t be admitted — quote — “at the point of a bayonet.”

Christine Brennan of USA Today and ABC was among those who broke today’s story.

Christine Brennan, welcome.

Today, Augusta National, instead of having no women over its 80 years’ history, now has two. Is this a big deal? And, if so, why?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: I think it’s a very big deal.

And it’s not just about playing golf and sports, Ray. To me, it’s a cultural story.

And it comes — it’s fitting in many ways that it comes right after the London Olympics, the women’s Olympics. We were talking all about the U.S. women winning so many more gold medals than the U.S. men.

And then a week later, you have got this last bastion of male supremacy, Augusta National Golf Club, finally in a very public way — and this is a private club that doesn’t tell us anything — making this announcement, unprecedented that they would go so public and be so forthcoming to talk about not one, but two female members.

And I think it’s a great step for Augusta National. And I think it speaks volumes about the need to have more women, not only in the game of golf, which is not exactly, you know, the biggest issue in the nation, but also in the corridors of power, which is really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Augusta National.

RAY SUAREZ: Do we know what precipitated this decision? Was Augusta National’s policy hurting the club or its role as the home of the Masters?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Certainly, what happened in April with the story of the IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, first female CEO of IBM, not becoming a member of the club, at least not at that point, the furor that that created I think stunned Augusta National and stunned its chairman, Billy Payne, who was the man in charge of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which were previously known as the women’s Olympics.

And Billy Payne is a much more moderate leader of Augusta National than the other men who have come before him. And he was just peppered, blistered with questions, and from everyone. And I think it took them by surprise. And they realized they had to do something.

So that April conversation about the IBM CEO, who, by the way, is not one of the two women named today, I think that precipitated everything and made this very private club go public for the first time ever to discuss its membership issues.

RAY SUAREZ: The former Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson told you 13 years ago women would be admitted, what he called, in due time.

Should the club be congratulated for doing the right thing or still asked, what took you so long?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I think it can be a little of both.

And I’m smiling because Hootie Johnson is kind of a character right out of history. You remember when he said that he wouldn’t be pressured at the point of a bayonet to admit women. You know, what century was Augusta National in? That was 2002 when he said that.

So, that — there was a lot to be critical about. And I have been as critical as anyone in my columns in USA Today about this policy, 13 years of writing about it now. But I will say this. They have done it. It was a long time coming, too long, an anguished and arduous task in many ways, but they have done it.

And I picture a 10-year-old girl, 12-year-old girl sitting on the sofa next year with her mom and dad watching the Masters and seeing two women in green jackets and believing that anything is possible. I do believe that these images of people in these places where they have not been before can have a dramatic impact on children.

How about a woman, a young boy or girl of color, looking at Condoleezza Rice in a green jacket? That’s a very powerful image. And so I think, while we — I have been criticizing Augusta National for so long, I think you can also say, hey, they have done it. And this is a great day for — not only for girls and women in sports and in golf and in our culture, but I think it’s a great day for the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Similar complaints were heard for years about Augusta’s all-white membership. Then, in 1990, with great fanfare, they admitted a black member.

Does this take exclusion off the table? Does this end the argument at Augusta National?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: You know, yes, I actually think this does take it off the table.

Certainly, you could imagine a conversation about when will there be the next female member of Augusta National? When will they get to 10? For African-American men, when will there be more black members? There’s five, six, seven now.

But I think the fact that you have the first is — it means everything. And from the standpoint of what Augusta National has done today in a public way, unprecedented, I think they are making a huge statement that they get it. They know they have been very slow, incredibly slow in getting this done.

They know they have been out of step with the nation. They also know the golf industry has been clamoring for this, because women are the growth industry of the sport. And as long as you have the stop sign out saying you cannot come into this sport from the most visible of all clubs, that was a huge problem on the economic side.

So for free enterprise alone, this was a great day for the golf industry to welcome women in. And I just think for the most part now this conversation ends. And that’s OK with me, because there certainly are other bigger issues hopefully to get to in the future.

RAY SUAREZ: Christine Brennan broke the story.

Thanks for joining us.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: You bet, Ray. Thank you very much.