Augusta National Struggles to Answer the Woman Question

Ladies Golf BallSince its establishment in 1933, Augusta National has been hailed as one of the nation’s premier golf clubs. This extremely selective club boasts members like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Harold Poling. In the world of golf clubs, this place is the crème-de-la-crème, no doubt about it. Built on long-standing traditions and shrouded in exclusivity, getting membership with Augusta National tells the world that you’ve made it.

But throughout the history of this illustrious club, Augusta has made it difficult for certain people to don their famous green membership jacket. And by “certain people,” I mean anyone who’s not a white man. Augusta didn’t have a black member until 1990, when it extended an invitation to Gannet Co. (GCI) television President Ron Townsend who still belongs to this day. While 1990 may seem like ages ago, let’s put this in perspective: the world saw a man walk on the moon two decades before Augusta saw a non-white man in their signature green jacket.

Now Augusta faces another membership quandary: should they allow women to become members at their historically all-boys club? While this controversy has been stirring up since 2002 when Martha Burk, chairwoman of the Washington-based National Council of Women’s Organizations, contended that hosting the Masters Tournament at a male-only club constituted sexism, this year Augusta is faced with a real do-or-die moment regarding female membership in the form of Virginia Rometty, the newly appointed CEO of IBM.

As per tradition, membership at Augusta is offered to the CEO of IBM, one of three Masters sponsors. As the newly appointed CEO, Rometty should be donning that custom-tailored jacket in no-time; but as a woman, the company hesitates to start taking her measurements. “They have a dilemma on many levels,” said Marcia Chambers, senior research scholar in law and journalist in residence at Yale University Law School. “If there’s been a tradition of certain CEOs, then they should look at this new CEO in the same way. The only thing that makes her any different is her gender.”

As a private club, Augusta has every right to set its own rules and pick and choose their membership. However, whether or not they will pick Rometty or choose to exclude her based on her gender remains to be seen. And so far, they aren’t very forthcoming with the details of their internal debate; every member asked to speak on the decision has declined to comment.

In this caveman’s opinion, the fact that we’re even having this discussion in 2012 seems ridiculous. While I may remember the days of clubbin’ ladies over the head and draggin’ ’em off to my cave, it doesn’t mean I’m proud of that past and it certainly doesn’t mean such traditions of subjugating women should continue into the 21st century. Perhaps what’s most disturbing about this debate is the overwhelming male reaction in favor of keeping Rometty out of the clubhouse. Comments like “keep the women off the golf course and in the kitchen” abound on comment boards regarding this issue. At least in this caveman’s opinion, women belong wherever they please – kitchen, clubhouse, or the CEO’s corner office. While Augusta legally has the right to exclude Rometty (and any potential member, for that matter), the facts are: if the new CEO of IBM was a man instead of a woman, there would be no hesitation. He would become a member without question and without national debate. At this point, even if Rometty becomes a member, the very fact that her potential membership was debated in the first place, in this caveman’s opinion, counts as a stroke against Augusta’s proverbial scorecard. Had they quietly and without a fuss accepted her into their ranks, Augusta would have taken a huge step towards putting to rest the idea that “golf” stands for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” Instead of standing as an institution in favor of progress and equality, Augusta has opted to remain the stodgy boys-club steeped in scotch and the acrid smell of misogyny. Personally, I prefer the aroma of half-decayed mastodon to that stench, though both are equally out-dated.

But this is just one caveman’s opinion. Let’s hear from some of the other cavemen and cavewomen out there. What do you think about Augusta’s dilemma? Should Rometty be allowed to sport the green of Augusta’s membership jacket, or should she stick to the greens of her local course? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

 
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13 thoughts on “Augusta National Struggles to Answer the Woman Question

  • March 30, 2012 at 9:54 am
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    Wow! What a refreshing take on this old, stale debate! I signed up to get your newsletter and look for women’s golf items, but the whole caveman kind of put me off – reminded me of a frat boy persona versus anything that would be for me. This blog and makes me rethink that and perhaps I can even call myself a caveman or make that cavewoman if you publish and support this kind of thoughtful dialog! Really, it’s 2012! It’s time to stop making gender and race based discriminatory decisions – private or public. Get with the program! I think I’m going to see if I can find some reviews of women’s golf items on this site and make a purchase! Thanks again for the refreshing perspective!

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    • March 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm
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      Lovin’ the cavewoman power in these comments, and a special shout out to the cavemen stickin’ up for the ladies of the links! We need more golfin’ guys and gals like you. Thanks for speakin’ up and I hope you enjoy your purchases from Rock Bottom Golf!

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  • March 30, 2012 at 10:08 am
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    What a great article! Couldn’t have said it better myself!

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  • March 30, 2012 at 10:24 am
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    Wow…what an interesting and inspiring article. I absolutely believe that Rometty has earned here privilege to sport the green of Augusta. I think it so awesome that a golf retail is sticking up for the female golfers. As a female myself, it makes me have such respect for them and I will be very inclined to buy from them because of that!

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  • March 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm
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    Augusta, is without a doubt, the best of the best. However if they do not allow the IBM CEO to be invited to join then I will have to drop them as my number one TV event of the year.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm
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    As someone who has been to the Masters with my mother and father as well as friends and my wife over the years Augusta has a special place in my heart and always will. I have also been lucky enough to play the course for a day with friends. It is the most beautifull golf course in the world.
    I am not sure I agree with your assessment of if the current IBM CEO was a man she would be in. The club is very exclusive with only a handful of local members. You could be the president of US Steel, GM or the United States of America and still not be accepted as a club member. The average club member visits the course only a few days a year and is typically not interacting with other members. Unless you are friends with existing members and a big time golf fanatic you are probably not going to be invited no matter what your sex, religion or color is. They really do not require or need new members.

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    • March 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm
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      Hey there, Joe! Thanks for the comment and you’re right, Augusta is a very exclusive course. That being said, Augusta has established a precedent with IBM of admitting their CEO as a member since IBM is one of the top 3 contributors to the Masters. They have done this for the past 4 consecutive CEOs. To break that tradition now would seriously imply that the only reason is because the new CEO happens to be a woman. Regardless of how often Rometty plans to set foot on the course, for several years it has been a tradition that the CEO of IBM is allowed membership. At this point, the only possible reason to deny her membership would be because of her gender.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm
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    Well said. The Club may have the legal right to keep out women. The PGA definitely has the right to not play at such places. Not holding my breath.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm
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    Have you tried working out at Curves lately?

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    • April 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm
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      Hey there, Brian! That’s an interesting point. For those who don’t know – Curves is an all-woman gym that was founded by husband and wife team Gary and Diane Heavin with the motto of “no makeup, no men, and no mirrors” to give women a body-positive space to work out without having to worry about being oggled, judged, or objectified by men. So Brian, you’re right – men ain’t allowed in Curves. Just like men aren’t allowed in women’s locker rooms or restrooms (and vice versa). You’re completely correct – gendered spaces exist and there’s no denying that. But the point of this article is more to raise the question of whether or not Augusta should deny Rometty membership that would have been given to her as a man (as CEO of IBM, she would traditionally be given a membership). If Augusta wants to establish itself as a male-gendered space, it’s within their right as a private club and their decision of whether or not to admit Rometty amongst their ranks will certainly be a watershed moment for the gender politics of this club.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 8:58 pm
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    2012 the more things chenge the more things remain the same. I say IBM should drop their sponorship no matter the outcome.
    The stench is out, no matter the rationale.

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  • April 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm
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    What really defines exclusivity? Usually it is exclusion itself. So if Augusta wants to remain “exclusive” then they simply must weigh the costs. They can do so by saying “no” to the historical member requirement for the CEO of IBM and make it clear to the world that:
    – being a caveman is heartfelt and a part of their soul and no amount of money will change that because they will lose the sponsorship funds from IBM at that point;
    – history means nothing because they will change the rules when and if they see fit

    Or, perhaps Ms. Rometty will be gracious and decline the membership out of pure distaste but give them the money anyways! lol! lol! I think not – because Ms. Rometty is a very very smart lady.

    Good luck with it everyone – and by the way, ladies jacket sizes are fitted differently than mens!

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  • June 7, 2012 at 3:51 am
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    Hello. Very nice blog!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your site and take the feeds also…I am glad to find numerous helpful info here within the post. Thanks for sharing..

    Reply

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