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Augusta National will play host to women’s amateur championship

Augusta National will play host to a women's

Augusta National will play host to a women's amatuer championship a week before The Masters. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National Golf Club, once widely identified and sharply criticized for its men-only membership, will usher in Masters week with a major women’s amateur tournament, starting next year.

Plans for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, a 54-hole event with the final round played on the Masters course, were announced by new club chairman Fred Ridley Wednesday in his first “State of the Masters” statement and news conference. He called the new event an “extension of Masters week” in continuing a tone and trend set by predecessor Billy Payne, who was in charge when the club allowed its first women members six years ago.

“Our country has a history of institutions that evolve over time and become more inclusive,” said Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State and current Augusta member, who was among the green jacket-clad members in attendance for Ridley’s statement. “This is great for golf and great for Augusta. I’m really proud of what the chairman has done.”

After two rounds at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club, the 30 women who make the cut will play at Augusta National on Saturday before the Masters begins. Fifteen years ago the Saturday of Masters week was marked by a protest held off site to protest the fact that no women were allowed as members.

“Golf is a great game. Hopefully, it’s color blind, it’s blind as to gender,” said Ridley, the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and later president of the United States Golf Association. “I felt that there was an opportunity and a platform to make a statement as to how we feel about this part of the game. I felt it was time to do that. I happen to have three daughters, and they all love golf. They’re not really very good players, but they all love the game. And I know they’re going to be really excited about this.”

Rice said that, as a college professor, she follows the amateur game and can sense how excited young women golfers will be about the chance to play on what probably ranks as America’s most iconic course. “They’re long enough to play it,” she said, pointing out that Ridley and Augusta National founder Bobby Jones were career-long amateur standouts.

Despite the club’s reputation for being hidebound and exclusionary, especially toward women and African Americans, Rice recalled her own thrill at receiving a standing ovation from fellow members the first time she stepped to the first tee after her acceptance. “Augusta National is one of those places that is so much better than you expect it to be, and you expect it to be pretty good,” she said.

Annika Sorenstam, winner of 72 LPGA tournaments (10 majors) and an ambassador for women’s golf, was at the news conference after having been tipped off to the surprise announcement. “I have a lot of respect and admiration for Augusta National. They do things the right way,” she said.

Ridley acknowledged that the new event will be held the same weekend as the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major, but added that the Augusta amateur will be scheduled for early in the afternoon so it will not conflict with the telecast. “I think, over time, this will also be of great benefit to the women’s professional game as well,” he said.

Spectators will be allowed to attend, giving people another chance to see the grounds. The tournament will be televised, although those details have not been finalized.

The winner will not receive a green jacket, as does the Masters champion. “We plan to have a very distinctive award for the winner of this event and we think in time that will become iconic as well,” Ridley said. When he was asked what that will be he said, “We don’t know yet. I’ve got to work on that. But I can assure you it will be very, very nice.”

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