Augusta can make its latest act
more than merely symbolic
Aweek after the fact, Augusta National’s admittance of its first two female members—Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore—remains a feel-good story. And what’s not to like? In an instant, golf
became less susceptible to caricature at a point in which its
footing has been getting less sure. The game’s male leaders
got to appear altruistic and politically correct on an issue
that had been making them increasingly uncomfortable.
Professional women gained ground in the ineffable but
vital world of informal networks. It was the kind of “twofer”
that major organizations are always looking for, image
enhancement by doing the right thing.
But even though history was made, if all that follows is
self-congratulation and joyous relief, nothing transformative will result. And one of golf’s thought experiments—
“When someone becomes a member of the Augusta
National, does it make a sound?”—will remain unresolved.
For Rice’s and Moore’s memberships to truly resonate,
Augusta will have to push itself beyond
the symbolic to the publicly active. As
an ostensible leader of a sport at a
crossroads, the issue at hand is
obvious. Women, who make up less
than 20 percent of all golfers, perennially drop out of the game at more than
double the rate of men.
This was the harsh reality PGA Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem ever so gently
nailed when he praised the club’s decision for coming “at a time
when women [potentially] represent one of the fastest growing
segments in both playing and following the game of golf.”
Simultaneously, Augusta was transferring its old baggage on
the already overflowing lorry of the male-only Royal and
Ancient GC of St. Andrews, conspicuously alone among golf’s
power brokers open to charges of institutional sexism.
Rice’s and Moore’s memberships at Augusta immediately
made the 258-year-old club’s 2004 decision to reassign its
official governance of the game everywhere in the world
except for the U.S. and Mexico to an entity called the “R&A”
look lame. And with British society fresh off mass celebra-
tion of female sport at the London Olympics, the ancient
clubhouse next to the first tee of the Old Course became
the world’s only gray-stone dartboard. The taunts will get
louder with next year’s British Open going to Muirfield, one
of three all-men’s clubs on the championship rota. Ultimately,
Augusta’s decision may be best remembered as the catalyst
that put women in the Royal and Ancient.
If Rice and Moore blend into the usual sea of green,
two more powerful but essentially anonymous
members, Augusta will have played it
too safe and left golf too unchanged.
The point is, until further notice, there is an increased
sense of possibility amid the Georgia pines. Just as Rice was
projected for membership a few years ago, so have Nancy
Lopez and Judy Rankin. If that happened, could a woman’s
major over the storied course be in the pipeline, with the
members’ tees the perfect length and all the iconic bridges
the perfect stage? It’s an obscure fact that the club hosted the
1937 and 1938 Senior PGA, and a well known one that Payne’s
unrequited dream was to have the course hold the male and
female golf competition at the 1996 Olympics.
If none of the above happens, and Rice and Moore blend
into the usual sea of green, two more powerful but essentially anonymous members, Augusta will have played it too
safe and left golf too unchanged. Credence will also be
given—unfairly or not—to Martha Burk’s charge that
Augusta would still be without a woman member if it had
not been pushed.