Long Time Coming: Augusta National Finally Allows Female Members

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 11: Augusta National Chairman William Porter "Billy" Payne speaks to the gallery during the green jacket presentation after the final round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Augusta National Golf Club's announcement of naming its first two female members has been a long time coming.

Augusta National Golf Club has announced they have named their first two female members, in what will forever be referred to as a historic moment in the golf world.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, of Lake City, S.C., are the two women who will share the distinguished designation as Augusta's first female members.

But today's announcement means so much more for the improvement of the game. It cannot be understated.

Augusta National and the Masters tournament have long been revered as a mecca of golf greatness rich in tradition. For over 80 years, however, the golf club maintained its all-male membership with a level of strict stubbornness that had been commonplace among many golf and country clubs across the nation. It had seemed that the acronym of "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden" was taken literally in these cases, even amid various equal and civil rights movements that have highlighted our nation's history. Golf simply did not seem to pay attention, especially at Augusta.

Now, all of that changes. As Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne - who has been the focus of much criticism during his reign - mentioned in an official statement released earlier Monday, "This is a joyous occasion."

Make no mistake, this decision has been a long time coming. In 2002, for example, Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations urged the club to include women among its members, taking then-Chairman Hootie Johnson to task. Johnson stood his ground for many years, of course, but managed to anger Masters television sponsors for two years in the process.

Augusta National once again became the focus of equal rights supporters this year when Ginni Rometty became the newly-appointed CEO of IBM. The club traditionally extends membership offers to many of the world's top CEO's, but IBM's female chief officer forced Payne and Augusta's membership board to evaluate their stance on "no girls allowed". Payne would ultimately decide to not name Rometty as a member at that time.

Monday's announcement, however, shows that Payne may have been willing to allow female members much earlier than Augusta's membership board planned. As ESPN reported earlier Monday, a person "with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago." As anyone with knowledge of country club politics will tell you, breaking the mold of past generations is often easier said than done, which makes Augusta's announcement that much more spellbinding.

What will membership with Augusta National mean to its two newest inductees?

"Augusta National has always captured my imagination and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April," Dana Moore 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."

Secretary Rice echoes her friend's sentiments.

"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," Rice said in a statement released by the club. "I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world."

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