A big decision, small victories for everyone

Don’t overlook the two biggest winners in Augusta National’s

decision to invite women to join the club.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are now members of one of the

most exclusive golf clubs in the world. They will be presented

green jackets when the golf course opens for a new season in

October. They can attend the members-only parties, including the

Jamboree each spring. Members are discouraged from playing too much

at the home of the Masters, though they can bring guests and stay

in the white cabins along the 10th fairway.

If their schedules allow, they will be assigned a committee

during the Masters. They will be at the members-only dinner in an

upstairs chalet at the end of the tournament to toast the newest

Masters champion.

But they weren’t the only winners.

The only thing Augusta National ever says about membership

issues is that it doesn’t discuss them. Nothing spoke to the

historic nature of Monday’s decision more than club chairman Billy

Payne issuing a press release to confirm Rice and Moore as the

newest members.

He called it a ”joyous occasion,” which could be interpreted

many ways.

Perhaps the joy is knowing that he won’t be fielding any more

questions why Augusta National hasn’t had a female member in its

80-year history. Or that the focus at the Masters can return to

white dogwoods, pink azaleas and lightning fast greens.

It does seem strange that keeping up with the times – some argue

Augusta was a century behind – by adding female members would

constitute a ”joyous occasion.”

Even so, Augusta National comes out a winner because it still

called the shots.

Former chairman Hootie Johnson said as much 10 years ago when he

felt Martha Burk and her women’s advocacy group were threatening

the Masters because the club had no women as members.

”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,” Johnson said.

In an interview in his office later that year, Johnson

distributed a historical summary of the club and the Masters, the

highest-rated golf telecast in the world.

”Our society is changing, and it is only natural that our club

should reflect these changes in contemporary society,” Johnson

wrote in the one-page summary. ”We are finding more and more, our

existing members’ suggestions for new members have broadened to

include a varied cross section of this society. We expect this

trend to continue.”

It seems as though Augusta was headed in this direction all

along.

A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore

first were considered as members five years ago. The person, who

spoke on condition of anonymity because club matters are private,

suspects Payne knew in April during the Masters that two women

would be fitted for a green jacket by the end of the year.

The announcement was not at the point of a bayonet. It was done

in typical, understated Augusta National fashion.

And it nearly left Burk speechless, but only for a moment.

”Oh my God. We won,” she blurted out.

Yes, Burk can claim a victory, too.

Some might argue that trying to corner Johnson in 2002 only

delayed the inevitable. But there was nothing to suggest from the

public’s viewpoint – everything is so secretive at his Georgia club

– that a female member was in the works.

”This is a good turn of events,” Burk said. ”It came sooner

than I expected. I thought they were going to try to outlast me.

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. There’s a possibility it would not have

happened for 20 or 30 years.”

Did her protest slow progress at a club that does nothing

quickly?

”I think the `point of a bayonet’ was indicative of the

mindset, not only of Hootie but the steering body,” Burk said.

”No, I don’t think it would have happened sooner. They had no

intention of having a woman member.”

Other winners?

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem no longer has to cringe when

the subject of Augusta National’s membership is brought up. The

tour has a policy not to play at golf courses that don’t have women

or minorities. But the PGA Tour has no control over the Masters. It

was suggested to Finchem on more than one occasion that the tour no

longer recognize the Masters as an official win, and not have its

earnings count toward the PGA Tour money list.

Finchem finally said in May that the Masters was ”too

important” to ignore.

”We don’t get to determining whether their policies are right

or wrong, because we don’t have to, because we made the conclusion

that regardless of those policies, we are going to continue to play

and recognize them as part of the PGA Tour,” he said some of his

most blunt remarks.

Finchem weighed in on Augusta’s announcement Monday by

commending the club.

”At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing

segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends

a positive and inclusive message for our sport,” he said.

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were among those who

applauded the decision. Perhaps their biggest cheer is not having

to answer questions about it. Whatever their feelings – and golfers

are known to play it safe whenever topics turn controversial – all

they cared about at Augusta National was winning the green

jacket.

It comes with a lifetime exemption to the Masters, and a spot in

the Champions Locker Room upstairs in the clubhouse. And if they

win the Masters in April, they will be invited to a dinner hosted

by members, including two of the newest members – Rice and

Moore.