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Filler: Augusta National admits Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, showing how far women have risen
The big proof of advances in gender equality isn’t the fact that the Augusta National Golf Club finally relented in accepting female members. The surer sign of women’s progress is that they’ve reached such high levels of prominence, from whence Augusta National members have always been plucked, that their presence at the club as members became inevitable.
Augusta National should have been wise to that decades ago, but it was this year, when IBM named its first female CEO, Virginia Rometty, that the club was smacked in the face with reality, via undeniable logic. The last four CEOs of IBM had been members of Augusta National. IBM CEOs are prominent enough to be members of Augusta National. By definition, then, women are prominent enough to be members of Augusta National.
Rometty doesn’t really golf, and Augusta National hates to look like it can be pressured directly, so Monday morning the 80-year-old Georgia club, home to the greatest golf tournament in the world, announced it had admitted two female members who aren’t Rometty: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and entrepreneur and businesswoman Darla Moore.
Rice is an avid golfer and member of several exclusive clubs who received serious attention as a vice-presidential contender this year. Darla Moore is the first woman ever to be profiled on the cover of Fortune Magazine, a banker and businesswoman so successful and influential the University of South Carolina business school now bears her name.
Golf’s racial and gender history isn’t a very proud one, and Augusta National has been one of the slowest institutions to change. The club did not accept its first black member until 1990, and came under attack from activists led by National Council of Women’s Organization’s leader Martha Burk in 2002. This year, the controversy again intensified, with Rometty as the focus.
Augusta National is a private club so saturated in cash that it ran the Masters golf tournament commercial-free in 2003 and 2004 in order to get protesters off the backs of its usual corporate sponsors, simply eating the massive financial cost. Augusta National Golf Club did not have to accept female members this year, or ever, in terms of legal strictures or financial needs.
Except that … it did have to accept female members. Women have forced it to, by reaching such high levels of achievement and excellence that the Augusta membership could no longer remain truly august and not include women. In fact, women have been at that level of prominence for many years, and the club was ridiculously slow in realizing it.
Payne, in picking his first few female members, could easily have chosen Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or Pepsico chief executive Indra Nooyi. He could have chosen Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg or Kraft Foods CEO Irene Rosenfeld. He could have reached out to Oprah Winfrey, or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, or Xerox CEO Ursula Burns or Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer or Sunoco CEO Lynn Laverty Elsenhans, or South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley or Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.
What he couldn’t do was continue to have the most prestigious membership in the world while excluding women. Beyond being undesirable, it’s simply no longer possible, and hasn’t been for some time.
In a statement released by the club Monday, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said “This is a joyous occasion,” and he’s right. The advances women have made are a cause for celebration.
That a few of them will be able to hold that celebration at Augusta National is simply icing on the cake.
Pictured above: South Carolina financier Darla Moore and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be the first women in green jackets when the Augusta National Golf Club opens for a new season in October.