There were plenty of “Wows” uttered across the Aiken-Augusta area Monday morning as word spread that The Augusta National had admitted its first women members.
Anyone around 10 years ago remembers the ruckus caused by Martha Burke, who demanded that the club admit women. Her staged 2002 protest during the Masters Golf Tournament in a field near the course had about 30 supporters and a lot more reporters covering it.
Augusta National members refused to be bullied and ignored Burke, even though the controversy cost the club TV sponsorships during the Masters for a couple of years.
Women might be admitted one day, “but not at the point of a bayonet,” then National Chairman Hootie Johnson so famously said at the time.
The firestorm eventually calmed and the all-male tradition continued.
We are glad the National members have decided to admit women, and the first two invited are exciting: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a successful businesswoman from South Carolina who is respected as much for her success as her philanthropy. Both have the passion for golf the club prides itself on.
It’s important that the club made the change on its own terms, not because someone told them to. No one wants to be pushed into a corner, especially powerful people with deep pockets. It is their club, a private club and therefore the members area allowed to pick whomever they wants to join.
The difference between the Junior League or Woman’s Club is that there’s a level of prestige and connection that comes with being invited to join one of the most elite organizations in the world. But all those groups have the right to choose their members, whether those of us excluded like it or not.
The National has a very public event, and it’s an event that for four days a year the world watches.
But that’s not all that the club is about. It’s a golf club. Members play golf, have social events, invite friends and others to play. The dining is fine, the service first-rate and the surroundings comfortable and lush.
Billy Payne, who took over as chairman after Johnson retired in 2006, has handled the change well. In a news release Monday, he called it “a joyous occasion.”
It does mean one more barrier for women has been removed. Of course most of us will never get an invitation, but it’s nice to know those doors have been opened.
Payne was wise to handle the issue of women members as he did. It’s been more than five years since he took the reins, enough time to let the uproar settle and quietly move the membership to acceptance. The invitation process was kept private as always, but the announcement low-keyed and the first female members well-chosen.
The National did it its way, without a bayonet anywhere in sight.