Augusta National Golf Club admits first female members

CNN Wire

12:48 PM CDT, August 20, 2012


Augusta National Golf Club opened its exclusive membership to women Monday for the first time in its 80-year history.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore will become the first women to join the exclusive Augusta, Georgia, club, Chairman Billy Payne said Monday in a statement.

"These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership," Payne said. "It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall."

Augusta traditionally gives each new member and winners of the Masters Tournament its trademark green jacket.

The issue of its formerly all-male membership has long dogged the private club and has at times threatened to overshadow the Masters Tournament, among golf's most prestigious events.

Women's rights activist Martha Burk highlighted the issue in 2003, when she led a series of contentious protests over the issue.

Augusta's policy was in the news as recently as this spring, when the White House weighed in on the question of admitting IBM's top executive, Ginni Rometty. IBM is a sponsor of the Masters, which guarantees membership for its officers, but Rometty had been ineligible because she is female.

At the time, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama believed women should be admitted to the club.

GOP contender Mitt Romney also said at the time that if he were in charge of the club, he would admit women as members.

Rometty was not among those named to the club Monday.

Payne declined to comment on the issue then, and is not talking about the issue now, outside of the statement issued by the club, according to Augusta spokesman Steven Ethun.

In that statement, Payne said the decision marked a "significant and positive time" for the club.

Like many of Augusta's members, the new inductees are luminaries.

Rice served under President George W. Bush as the first female national security adviser and the first African-American woman to hold the post of secretary of state. She also served on President George H.W. Bush's National Security Council staff and was a special assistant to the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1986.

She grew up in humble beginnings in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and rose to prominence in academia and international diplomacy. She has been on the faculty of Stanford University since 1981, has authored two best-selling books and is a member of various boards, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been awarded 10 honorary doctorates.

Rice, who is also an accomplished pianist, said in a statement released through Augusta that she is "delighted and honored" to join the club.

"I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf," she said.

Moore is the vice president of Rainwater Inc., the investment firm founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater. Fortune magazine once named her among the top 50 women in business, and the University of South Carolina's business school is named in her honor.

She is also chairwoman of the Palmetto Institute, a nonprofit that says it is dedicated to producing "dramatic and sustained growth in the creation, distribution and retention of wealth for every person in South Carolina."

Moore said she is "extremely grateful for this privilege."

"I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life," she said.

Burk's protests against the club's policies made Augusta the focus of national attention beginning in 2002, when she wrote letters challenging the male-only membership policy at Augusta.

The club's chairman at the time, Hootie Johnson, responded saying that admitting women as members would not be done "at the point of a bayonet."

The next year, she organized protests to coincide with the Masters Tournament that drew widespread attention.

In 2006, Burk was among a group of Exxon shareholders who accused the company of violating its discrimination policies by supporting the tournament.