Augusta, home of The Masters, admits first women members
(Reuters) - The Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters golf tournament, on Monday said it has admitted two women as members for the first time: former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore.
The Augusta, Georgia club's previous status as male-only has drawn criticism for years. Ahead of this year's Masters tournament, President Barack Obama weighed in on the matter, saying through a spokesman that he believed women should be admitted.
"This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club," club president Billy Payne said in a statement.
Payne, who has refused in the past to speak publicly about membership matters, did not directly address the gender bar issue in his statement, saying only that it was a "significant and positive time" for the club and that Rice and Moore were subjected to the same review as other candidates.
"Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time," Payne said. "The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different."
"I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity," Rice said in a statement.
"I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf," she said. "I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world."
Augusta National's membership policy has been an issue for years, but it took on added significance after Ginni Rometty became chief executive officer of IBM Corp in January.
IBM, the world's largest technology services company, is a long-standing sponsor of the Masters, the first of the four "major" golf tournaments of the year, and its past four CEOs were granted membership to Augusta National. Rometty, however, was not included in Monday's announcement of new members.
When pressed during this year's Masters in April about the possibility of allowing Rometty to join Augusta National or spurn one of its major sponsors, Payne refused to say whether the issue had even been discussed.
"One, we don't talk about our private deliberations," he said. "Number two, we especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question."
Augusta's invitation only membership has been steeped in secrecy since the conservative club opened in 1932. Women are allowed to play the course only if invited by a member but cannot become members themselves.
The club does not reveal its full list of members, believed to be around 300, although it is known that some of the most powerful men from industry and finance, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are members.
It was not until 1990 that Augusta National invited its first black member, businessman Ron Townsend, following a row over racial discrimination at the whites-only Shoal Creek club in Alabama that was selected to host the PGA Championship, another of the four major tournaments.
IBM played a big part in the change, joining other sponsors in putting pressure on Shoal Creek by pulling its television advertisements.