Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A woman at Augusta; to be continued...

Long before Augusta National chairman Billy Payne took a seat in the media room Wednesday for his annual question-and-answer session with the assembled scribes and commentators, he knew the question was coming.

When will Augusta National accept its first female member?

The question blooms annually, like the azaleas whose blossoms have come and gone already, and the answer is just as reliable. Club matters remain the private business of the club.

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The question, almost dormant since Martha Burk's crusade a decade ago, has resurfaced now that the new IBM CEO is a woman, Virginia Rometty. Previous CEOs of Big Blue have been invited to join Augusta National but Rometty is different because she's female.

For all we know, she may be on her way to becoming the first female member or, perhaps, part of the first group of female members. When the day comes that there are female members at Augusta National, it will likely come with virtually no fanfare, just a trickle of information having been doled out, acknowledging what will feel like a monumental change at the club.

Payne offered no hints about Rometty's status or that of any other female Wednesday. No matter how the question was phrased, he volleyed it back with the same answer, saying it's a private club business. When the media pushing continued, Payne stuck to the club line.

When he was asked what he would tell his granddaughters about the club's policy, he defended that conversation on the grounds of personal privacy. But the question put the topic on a personal level.

It was an awkward session but it's an awkward topic. On one hand, Payne and Augusta National have taken an aggressive approach to growing golf around the world. They are proactive and progressive, whether it's adding its weight behind the Asian Amateur championship, contributing heavily to The First Tee initiative or the club's involvement in a variety of other programs.

Then there's the membership issue.

It's the club's right to establish its own membership criteria. Augusta National gets the attention but there are plenty of other private organizations with exclusionary criteria.

Burk tried to use social blackmail and it backfired. In the case of Rometty's promotion, does it move from a gender issue to a business decision? Does that make a difference?

Women are welcome at Augusta National, playing literally hundreds of rounds of golf there each year. To this point, though, none has been asked to join the club, at least not to anyone's knowledge.

That day may be close. Or, maybe it's not close. Maybe the plan is to extend an invitation to Rometty on the club's schedule, not forcing it because of media scrutiny.

It's no surprise that the question was asked again -- and again -- on Wednesday. Maybe one day soon, it won't have to be asked again.


AL B said...

People need to drop this crap. It's a private club and it can have it's own rules. Why does society always want equality in everything? I don't want to see men serving me wings at Hooters and women don't need to be members at Augusta unless Augusta wants them to be members. The public should stay out of it.

Anonymous said...

It's a private club. They can do whatever they like. Get over it. Deal with it. Get used to it. You know, all those phrases that get used when men are offended by something women do?

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with the club policy? Does everything in this country have to be so damned politically correct?