Mike Kueber's Blog

August 20, 2012

Condi Rice, Augusta National, and some good news

Filed under: Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , ,

Today USA Today has an interesting article with a happy ending.   The story involves the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the home course of the Masters golf tournament.

The club, which was established in 1933, has traditionally had membership policies that would have been appropriate for the antebellum South, not for a prestigious national elite.  Although Catholics and Jews were admitted many years ago, it wasn’t until 1990 that blacks were admitted. 

Since 2002, there has been a lot of pressure to admit women.  The pressure was initiated by Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, but Augusta National’s then president, Billy Payne, responded by saying, “We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case.  There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet. We do not intend to be further distracted by this matter.”

I so understand that position.  No one likes to be told what to do, especially by outsiders.  But often the pressure exerted by outsiders keeps growing and eventually prevails.  In this case, the media vigorously cooperated with the female advocates.  The American Journalism Review described that cooperation in 2003:  

  • If Johnson hoped to extinguish the issue, he failed spectacularly. His statement ignited the media’s interest, and reporters pursued the Augusta National feud during the summer, throughout the fall and into the winter. By mid-February, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution each had published more than 50 news stories, columns and editorials on the debate; the Washington Post had run more than 40 and USA Today nearly 40, a Lexis-Nexis search shows.”

Augusta National, however, withstood the pressure, and the pressure gradually dissipated.  And today, at a time of their choosing, the club admitted two women – former Secretary of State Condi Rice and Darla Moore, a regional business executive.    

I don’t understand why Augusta National excluded women for so long.  Its membership is not limited to Neanderthal misogynists and includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Lou Holtz, Sen. Sam Nunn, Pat Hayden, T. Boone Pickens, Pete Coors, and Lynn Swann.  Inexplicably, these men did not earlier insist on the inclusion of women.  They might have learned from the ethical conduct of my golfing hero, Tom Watson, who in 1990 resigned from his hometown country club in Kansas City because it denied membership to a prominent local Jew, Henry Bloch.  Watson wasn’t a Jew, but his wife and kids were.  The happy ending – the club reversed its decision and accepted Bloch, so Watson was able to rejoin the club.

As a golfer, I can’t imagine the rationale for exclusion asserted by Augusta National Neanderthals.  Who wouldn’t want the presence of women?  Misogynists?  Perhaps not.  According to a news report, President Obama included women in only two of his first 93 rounds of golf since taking office.    

While reading about Augusta National on Wikipedia, I was surprised, not only by the small number of members (300), but by the reasonable cost of membership (between $10k and $30k to buy in and then less than $10k a year).  That is less than the cost of membership at some local San Antonio courses.   I suspect these costs are so low because the club is like an Ivy League university with a billion-dollar endowment that is used to keep tuition costs low.  Augusta National probably makes enough money on its Masters golf tournament that it would be able to provide free memberships.  Most Ivy League universities say that the cost of attendance should not preclude any deserving student from attending.  Similarly, the cost of an Augusta National membership is relatively insignificant to its golfers.

Final question – With only 300 members, many, if not most, of whom live far away from Augusta, I wonder how few rounds are actually played on the course.  I generally don’t spend a lot of time working on a bucket list, but watching a round at the Masters and seeing the Grand Canyon are on it.  According to wiki.answers.com, guests at Augusta National are not charged to play a round.    So maybe I should dream big and finagle a member into inviting me.  Next time I talk to Uncle Warren Buffett, I will broach that subject.  Bill Gates and Jack Welch can fill out my foursome.


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