Evidently, America is supposed to cheer Augusta National Golf Club for their decision to offer memberships to women after 80 years of discrimination. Excuse me if I don’t hop on the bandwagon, but I have a very different take on this “progress”.
Augusta is a private golf club that adopted discrimination as a policy from the day it opened. One of the club’s founders, Clifford Roberts, stated:
“As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”
“The club’s position is that it discriminates against no one: It is a private club, its members have freedom of association and race is different from gender.”
“The names on that list tell the tale of an old boys club… And they come mainly from the country’s old-line industries: banking and finance, oil and gas, manufacturing and distributing.”
“Augusta National Golf Club is a golfing version of Yale’s Skull and Bones: a secret society of the well-heeled that answers to no one. You don’t apply for membership. You get called — if you have the right combination of money, influence and friends.”
The tide began to turn in June of 1990, when a general-assignment reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald by the name of Joan Mazzolini interviewed Hall Thompson, the founder of Alabama’s Shoal Creek Golf Club. Shoal Creek had hosted the PGA Championship in 1984, and was chosen to host it again that year; and was another club that did not allow black golfers to join. According to Sports Illustrated’s SI Vault, Mazzolini asked Thompson:
“…what did he think about a black city councilman’s demand that $1,500 in city funds earmarked for an ad in the PGA Championship program be withdrawn because Shoal Creek excluded blacks from its membership?”
“Bringing up this issue will just polarize the community…but it can’t pressure us…. We have the right to associate or not to associate with whomever we choose. The country club is our home and we pick and choose who we want…. I think we’ve said that we don’t discriminate in every other area except the blacks.”
That’s when, as the Vault put it, “all hell broke loose”.
“…the PGA Tour announced it would not hold tournaments at clubs that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin, threatening that “in the event a golf club indicates that its membership practices and policies are nondiscriminatory but there is information that raises a question as to such practices and policies (e.g., all-white membership), the staff is authorized to require on a case-by-case basis that as a condition of hosting an event, the applicable golf club take appropriate action to encourage minority membership.”
Businesses began pulling their sponsorship and advertising from the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek, and this one item from the 1990 article is of the utmost irony:
Early in July, IBM refused to buy time on ABC’s Shoal Creek telecasts, saying that “supporting, even indirectly, exclusionary activities is against IBM’s practices and policies.”
Exclusionary policies against black golfers, evidently.
That caused Augusta’s Chairman at the time, Hord Hardin, to announce (my emphasis):
“…that his 300-member, hyper-exclusive, all-white club was expecting to add a black member, the first since Bobby Jones founded the club in 1932. Hardin was not happy that many people assumed he was only reacting to the ruckus in Birmingham. “We have been discussing it for about a year,” he said.
“Yes, we concluded at least a year ago that there were more black people playing golf, more black people climbing the business ladder, more climbing the scientific and educational ladders, and we realized that there were people in that group who would enjoy being with the people we have as members.”
Notice how, even when making a concentrated effort at it, guys like Hordin cannot avoid sounding racist. The PGA did not uphold its requirement of non-discrimination though, as The Masters is part of the PGA Tour and has always been played at men-only Augusta.
In 2002, Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organization sent Augusta Chairman, Hootie Johnson a letter urging him to add women to the club’s membership. Possibly in anticipation of a fallout reminiscent of 1990, Mr. Johnson chose to cancel the tournament’s corporate sponsorships for that year, and according to USA Today stated:
“…Augusta National will not be “bullied, threatened or intimidated” to add female members.”
Now in 2012 we come full circle to IBM’s high profile involvement in another golf/discrimination headline; the company’s new President and CEO is Ginni Rometty. Augusta has traditionally invited the CEO of IBM, one of only three Masters’ sponsors, to be a member; luckily for Augusta they’ve all been men… until now. With a female CEO holding the reins on IBM’s corporate sponsorships, which Bloomberg reports could be somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million annually for The Masters, Augusta has grudgingly, yet wisely opened membership to women.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking Augusta has become culturally enlightened; the move to admit women is motivated by the same principle that gained membership for black golfers in 1990: money. The first two women invited to join are: Condoleeza Rice, who said:
”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…I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf…”
and Darla Moore, who said:
”I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life.
”Above all, Augusta National and the Masters Tournaments have always stood for excellence, and that is what is so important to me.”
I don’t mean to nit-pic, but really; Condoleeza Rice “admires Augusta’s traditions”? Do people just go stupid when they gain entry into the Rich Boys club?
I don’t get up on my feminist soapbox on this blog as a rule; but personally, I don’t think women should join. Whether due to cultural change or the bottom line, Augusta should not now benefit financially when gender bias is so firmly entrenched in the club, and their sudden epiphany regarding female members is simply the result of a longtime sponsor’s changing of the guard. I’ve always felt women should refuse to even work at Augusta; if the boys want their own club, let them have it, and take the term no women literally.
Women and minorities have to stop begging to be invited to the dance; there’s too much purchasing power behind us to put up with it. Considering Augusta has already issued its first invitations to women, and the gates are now open, let society’s decorative baubles like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian join; intelligent women have better things to do with their money.
As for Ginny Rometty, the best thing she could do with her new clout is yank that sponsorship right out from under Augusta, and redirect it to, oh I don’t know…the LPGA?