Bubba Watson won his first green jacket in a thrilling playoff finish at the Masters on Sunday, but the question over whether the all-male Augusta National Golf Club would invite IBM’s new CEO Virginia M. Rometty to become its first female member remained unsettled.
IBM is one of three corporate sponsors of the Masters. And Augusta National, which hosts the event in Augusta, Ga., has offered membership to the past four IBM CEOs. But because of the club’s all-male policy, it is unclear whether an invitation has been extended to Rometty. IBM and the club would not say whether she had been invited to join.
That conflict set the stage for a drama over the past week in which an historic golf tournament and iconic corporation became entangled in one of the most heated social debates in recent memory regarding the status of women.
The issue has dogged Augusta National for a decade, but it erupted again this year because of Rometty’s prominence. On Sunday, Rometty walked the course and discreetly entered IBM’s cabin around lunchtime. The tournament’s other two major corporate sponsors are Exxon Mobil Corp. and AT&T Inc.
Golf, like many sports, has a history of exclusion. For decades, African-Americans and women were excluded from many of the nation’s top private golf clubs.
If Augusta National does decide to invite Rometty to become a member at some point, it would not be the first time the club has changed its membership policy. It was not until 1990 when the club admitted its first African-American member.
Over the past week, the delicate situation became a subject of debate. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne struggled to bat away questions about allowing women to join during a news conference Wednesday.
Appearing uncomfortable at times, Payne said the issue of who gets invited to join the club is "subject to the private deliberations of the members."
On Thursday, the subject became presidential campaign fodder, with both the White House and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney weighing in.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that President Barack Obama "believes Augusta should admit women," adding that it was "kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything."
Romney agreed that women should be allowed in.
On Sunday, Rometty strolled through the course and sat at the 18th hole in a chair wearing a pink blazer, white pants and white shoes. When asked by a reporter for a comment, she declined.