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Masters 2012: Billy Payne Refuses To Discuss Augusta National’s Membership Policy

Want to know if or when Augusta National will admit women to its membership rolls? Club chair Billy Payne says it's none of your business.

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As we suggested earlier in this space, Augusta National chair Billy Payne declined during a Wednesday press conference to comment about his club’s refusal to admit women members.

Citing the oft-repeated policy of the male-only golf club not to let anyone in on its behind-the-scenes machinations, Payne resisted again and again the opportunity to address the controversy that long-time Masters sponsor IBM sparked anew when it named a woman, Virginia Rometty, as its new president and chief executive.

“As has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to private deliberations of the members,” Payne told reporters during his annual pre-Masters press conference. “That statement remains accurate and that remains my statement.”

Despite repeated prodding from members of the media, Payne refused to yield, providing only his seemingly spur-of-the-moment rationale for holding his ground.

"I guess two reasons: One, we don't talk about our private deliberations,” he said. “Number two, we especially don't talk about them when a named candidate is part of the question."

Payne did not indicate who the “named candidate” was, but Rometty’s ascension earlier this year to the top position at IBM renewed the public debate about Augusta’s practice of banning women from membership. The issue had been relatively dormant since Martha Burk failed a decade ago to convince corporate sponsors -- including IBM -- to cut ties with the exclusionary club.

At the time, then-chair Hootie Johnson chose to let the event’s sponsors off the hook by broadcasting the Masters without commercials. Wednesday, reporters tried, unsuccessfully, to get Payne to provide just a glimpse into the reasoning behind Augusta’s women-need-not-apply code.

Appealing to the personal (how do you explain to your granddaughters that they can’t join your club?) and professional (girls would be more apt to play golf if they knew they could someday join Augusta) had no impact on Magnolia Lane’s guardian at the gates.

Not to worry, though, because, despite its antediluvian concepts about women, ANGC is inching its way toward the 21st century.

“We have made dramatic changes again this year,” Payne said about Augusta’s website. “It's a delicate balance [between providing a “beautiful” online presence and being informative], and I think we are getting pretty close.”

As for any advancement toward admitting women to the inner sanctum of Butler Cabin? Not so much.

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