SPORTS WATCH
Is Augusta National’s Female Membership Decision Monumental?
by Gus Jarvis
Aug 23, 2012 | 1875 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I told my wife to hurry and find a way to get invited to be the next female member of Augusta National Golf Club today, because at least she’s got just as good of a shot at becoming a member as I do.

Hey, at least she now has the opportunity to join, right?

Right.

OK, don’t get me wrong here. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and it is commendable that Augusta National will now allow women members. But after all the hype, I keep asking myself if this decision is really groundbreaking or not.

Earlier this week, the exclusive and ever-private golf club announced that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore will become the first female members in the Augusta’s 80-year history.

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club,” Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said, announcing the decision to the world.

According to The Augusta Chronicle, Augusta National officials never discuss matters involving membership, so this announcement is historic for the golf club. Augusta National was founded in 1932, with the first Masters tournament held in 1934. Since its inception, the club has always maintained its right to privacy on membership issues. Ron Townsend was the first African American admitted into the club in 1990, and ever since, the issue of women becoming members has been a hot topic, with women’s advocacy groups challenging the club’s Men Only  membership rule for years.

So now, after 80 some years, it’s time to allow women into the club. I think that’s great. Condoleezza, who’s known around the world, and who was once President George W. Bush’s right-hand-woman, probably deserves enough respect to be admitted into Augusta National.

And, I guess, so does Moore. Raised in South Carolina, she’s become one of the world’s highest-paid women in banking. Brokering deals out at Amen Corner is something she should be able to do. She’s earned that right, it seems.

Good for Rice and Moore. And good for Augusta National for making the decision to admit women as members for the first time.

Judging from a number of people’s reactions to this news, it would seem this decision is, in fact, a pretty big deal.

“It came sooner than I expected,” Martha Burk told The Chronicle of the recent decision. Burk had fought the club on the issue. “I thought they were going to try to outlast me,” she said. “And I really thought they would wait until the women’s movement would get no credit. But if we had not done what we did, this would not have happened now.”

It would seem Burk, and others like her, have put a lot of energy into making this decision become a reality. And while I think it’s a noble fight, is this really where the energy needed to be put? Is allowing female members at Augusta National really a huge step toward gender equality?

For me, Augusta National’s decision only makes them a little less exclusive. As we all know, we will never really know exactly what it takes to be a member of the club. OK, so we know that if you win the Masters, you’ll be a member, but what about all the Gus Jarvises of the world? Far from a scratch golfer, with a small pocketbook, decent looks, and the charm needed to wear the Green Jacket. How does he get to be a member? Well, I’m willing to guess the Gus Jarvises of the world won’t be receiving an invitation anytime soon. (Billy Payne, you can reach me at gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com if you’d like to offer an invite, although you’d probably have to front me my first round of dues.)

The Augusta National Golf Club remains a golf club for the elite, of the elite. It’s great that the elite of the elite women can now be a part of the club, but really, so what?

Does it actually make a difference that Rice and Moore can play whenever they want, smoking gigantic cigars and talking about the men in their lives? Not if you ask me. Augusta is exclusive and only a few are allowed in. It’s been that way for the last 80 years, and it will always be that way. Even Rice doesn’t think the decision to allow members is all that monumental.

Asked by The New York Times if she thought that a club like Augusta had an obligation to set a better example by admitting women, Rice replied: “No. I actually don’t. These are issues for the membership. I’ve got a lot of good friends at Augusta who are really good people. And it’s really up to them. Obviously, I don’t believe that you can have racial discrimination. That is something that is not only illegal but immoral. But there are women-only associations and men-only associations, and these are things that we need to leave to people to sort out. The face of America is changing, the face of golf is changing. All of this will change.”

If Augusta’s decision regarding Rice and Moore isn’t monumental for gender equality, what would be?

I would say, invite the world’s top female athletes to compete in the Masters at some point. Perhaps right now, they may not have a chance when facing the world’s best men, but I bet at some point someone will be able to at least make the final-round cut. And if that’s too far of a stretch, Augusta National should put on a women’s Masters tournament of some sort, just before or after the Masters. Make a big deal out of it. People would watch and it would be great PR.

Allowing women to compete for the Green Jacket seems like a bigger step toward gender equality than simply allowing women to pay for a Green Jacket.



gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com or @gusgusj 

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