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  • Lauren Wood

A Long Drive For Equality

Updated: Jan 31



On August 20, 2012, Augusta National Golf Club announced its decision to extend membership to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and renowned banker Darla Moore, ending its 80-year streak as a male-only club. 


As a private organization, Augusta has the federal right to restrict club access to members of their choosing. Challenging this decision became nearly impossible after the Supreme Court ruled in the 2000 case Boy Scouts v. Dale that forcing a private club to admit members violated its First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Until 2012, Augusta used this logic to bar women from becoming members at the prestigious golf course. 


Pressure to admit a female member culminated in 2002 when Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, mailed a letter to Augusta chairman William Johnson urging him to include a woman at Augusta. Rather than succumbing to her demands, Johnson replied that “there may well come a day when women will be invited to join [Augusta’s] membership, but that timetable will be [Augusta’s] and not at the point of a bayonet”. 


Knowledge of the culture at Augusta is crucial to understanding Johnson’s defensiveness. The club bases membership off of respectability and intelligence rather than wealth, and access to the mysteries behind the front gates grants members a sense of power.


Part of Augusta’s lure is the secrecy surrounding every aspect of the club, from the fertilizer they use on their azaleas to the measurements of the quintessential green jackets given to members. Their strict rules regarding membership are no exception.

 

Although the exact number is unknown, figures speculate that the number of members is somewhere around 300, all privately invited by the chairman of the club. Potential candidates are unaware that they are even being considered for membership until they receive an invitation in the mail, and members are forbidden from speaking about club policies. The inclusion of a new member is a significant event, and not one that can be rushed. 


When Burk demanded that Johnson admit a female member, she interfered with the prestige of the membership process. Admitting a woman immediately after her outburst would have been seen as an attempt to relieve Augusta of public criticism, and the new female member would not have been regarded with the same respect as the other male members.


That is not to say that the club’s discriminatory policies were justified. Countless women throughout history would have been perfectly acceptable candidates for membership at Augusta, even back when the club was first established. Rice and Moore, while certainly powerful, were not the first two women to accomplish feats worthy of an invitation to the course. 


It is impossible to know for certain how close Augusta was to admitting a woman when Burke wrote her letter, but Johnson’s response clearly suggested that her demands did nothing to accelerate the process. 


In fact, it was not until a decade later that Burk’s request was fulfilled when Rice and Moore became the first female members at Augusta National. Since then, they have been joined by at least four additional women, all of whom have equally as impressive legacies as their male counterparts.


As a professor at Stanford and former Secretary of State under the Bush administration, Rice is well respected in the world of politics. Moore is similarly impressive, making history as the highest-paid female banker in the industry and creating a name for herself on Wall Street. The combination of their resumes and interest in golf made them the perfect candidates for membership in 2012.


The next woman to receive an invitation to Augusta was the first female CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty. Since IBM is one of the official sponsors of the Masters, its CEOs are traditionally offered membership, and it became a popular debate when Rometty was appointed CEO in 2012 whether she would also be awarded a place at Augusta. Two years later, in 2014, Rometty finally received the same invitation as her male predecessors and joined Rice and Moore at Augusta. 


The last three known female members joined Augusta in the late 2010s, each as accomplished as the last. The first, Diana Murphy, served two terms as the second ever female president of the United States Golf Association (USGA), while simultaneously managing her private-equity firm Rocksolid Holdings. The next woman to join Augusta was Ana Botin, Augusta’s first female Spanish member, who in addition to holding an 8 handicap, made a name for herself in finance as executive chairman of Banco Santander. The last was Heidi Ueberroth, who has an impressive resume in the world of sports as the president of Globicon, co-chairman of the board of directors at the famous Pebble Beach course, and director of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the Monterey area through golf fundraisers.


Despite Augusta’s 80-year reluctance to admit a female member, they ensured that the women they chose had equally as impressive legacies as Augusta’s current male members. None of the women selected were offered an invite to appease the public or to fabricate diversity at the club, but rather earned their invitations as leaders in their respective fields. There is no doubt that they belong amongst the respected green jacket holders at Augusta. 


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