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Back to the past at Augusta: women still outsiders

The Augusta National Golf Club still forbids women members. At a time when more women are holding political office and becoming corporate CEOs, isn't it time to dump this discrimination?

By David CraryAssociated Press / April 7, 2012

Matt Kuchar celebrates his birdie putt on the seventh hole during third round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, Saturday April 7. Augusta still doesn't allow women members.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

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As host of the Masters, the Augusta National Golf Club takes pride in preserving traditions, even to the point of anachronism: pimento cheese sandwiches selling for $1.50 at the snack venues, caddies in white overalls, nostalgic music and minimal ads on the tournament telecasts.

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And then there's that other throwback – exclusion of women from the club's elite, CEO-studded membership. It's retro, but not necessarily in a way that inspires warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia.

"They're clearly living in a time warp," said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy for the American Association of University Women, who evoked the sexist mindsets of 50 years ago on display in the TV series "Mad Men" about a New York advertising agency in the 1960s.

"In a culture where 'Mad Men' has become such a hit, it feels like we're falling back into some of those policies," Maatz added. "It's resulting in a lot of mad women."

RECOMMENDED: 12 women who should be members at Augusta

Augusta National – which took its time before admitting black and Jewish men as members – was targeted by angry women before, in 2002. Martha Burk, then head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, led a protest campaign that riled the club's leadership and failed to break the gender barrier.

This time is different – notably because one of the Masters' longtime sponsors, IBM, has a new female CEO, Virginia Rometty. The last four CEOs at IBM, all male, were invited to be members, so whether Rometty will be offered the same status is an inevitable question.

Augusta National's chairman, Billy Payne, has refused to provide a substantive answer, saying the club's membership decisions are private. The players competing in this year's Masters – which concludes Sunday – have generally dodged the subject. IBM and other major sponsors have declined to comment.

"Their silence sent a message loud and clear: 'We respect the boys at Augusta National Golf Club more than we respect our female CEO,'" Burk wrote Friday in an online column for WeNews.

There's been ample high-level comment elsewhere, even from the White House.

President Barack Obama's "personal opinion is that women should be admitted" to the golf club, according to his press secretary, Jay Carney.

"We're kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything," Carney said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Obama's likely challenger in the fall, said "of course" he would allow women in "if I could run Augusta."

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