Augusta National has always tried to maintain the awkward position of being an intensely private club with a very public role. Besides operating—and profiting from—the Masters, golf's most prestigious tournament, Augusta National actively shapes the game at the grassroots level (the club has a seat on the board of directors of the First Tee youth-development organization) while helping to determine the livelihood of every professional golfer (club members are on the governing board of the world rankings). Meanwhile, Augusta National's chairman is a de facto third-party commissioner in the sport. Given these fiduciary duties, it has always been unseemly that the club refused to have female members and thus excluded half the population from its decision-making process.
On Monday, chairman Billy Payne rescued his nearly 80-year-old club from its contradictions by announcing that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore had become Augusta National's first female members. The news comes a decade after Payne's pugnacious predecessor, Hootie Johnson, declared that the club would not accept female members "at the point of a bayonet." At his annual press conference this April, Payne opened with a self-congratulatory monologue highlighting the club's desire to grow the game, then seemed taken aback when he was repeatedly challenged by reporters as to how that squared with the club's membership practices.
That Augusta National has seen the light is good news for golf. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a press release, "At a time when women represent one of the fastest-growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport." He was too polite to add, It's about damn time, Billy.
DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES (RICE)
LADIES DAY Rice (with Finchem at Augusta in 2009) was one of two women to join the club on Monday—nearly 80 years after its founding.