Augusta National admits first women – all two of them (+video)

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore are invited to join Augusta National. The 80-year-old golfing club has been under pressure for 10 years to admit women.

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    This April 2006 file photo shows bright yellow flowers in the shape of the United States adorn the lawn at the clubhouse during practice for the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
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Girls are allowed! Well, two of them.

The Augusta National Golf Club invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore into its ultra-exclusive ranks Monday, breaking its 80-year run allowing in only men (and not a huge number of them, either).  

“This is a joyous occasion,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a Monday press statement. “We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National…. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall. This is a significant and positive time in our club's history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”

Recommended: The Masters: 12 women candidates for Augusta National membership

The inclusion of women was a long time coming for Augusta, a storied country club that has been a lightning rod in the debate between those who viewed its exclusion of women as an institutional right and those who see it as gender discrimination. The Georgia club, rumored to have about 300 members, didn’t have a black member until 1990. Furor over its “men only” policy came to a head back in 2002, when a movement led by Martha Burk and the National Council of Women’s Organizations urged Augusta to include women among its members. Then-chairman William "Hootie" Johnson was unrelenting, saying Augusta National would not be “bullied, threatened, or intimidated” into changing its membership policies.

The discussion came up again earlier this year, after IBM named Virginia "Ginni" Rometty its CEO. The firm's three man-CEOs before Ms. Rometty had all been Augusta members, fueling speculation over whether the club would ask her to join or risk losing a major corporate sponsor for the Masters tournament. Neither thing happened.

But let’s step away from all that for a moment and focus on the ladies of the hour. Dr. Rice and Ms. Moore are friends – and major players in the business world. Rice, President George W. Bush’s secretary of State, now teaches political science at Stanford’s business school. Moore was once one of the highest-paid women in the US banking industry, has SC’s business school named after her, and is a longtime pal of Augusta's Mr. Johnson.

Moore and Rice have each publicly supported Augusta’s right to exclude women as members. In 2002, at the height of the controversy, Moore told The Wall Street Journal, “I’m as progressive as they come. But some things ought not to be messed with.”

Rice, who is also a member of the US Golf Association’s 2012 nominating committee, said an interview with Golf Digest last year that Augusta had no obligation to become a mixed club. “These are issues for the membership,” she said. “I've got a lot of good friends at Augusta who are really good people. And it's really up to them.... There are women-only associations and men-only associations, and these are things that we need to leave to people to sort out.”

Moore reportedly isn’t an avid golfer (which is fine, because Augusta membership is more about the parties). Rice, who is perhaps better known as a pianist and tennis player, didn’t start playing golf until 2005, a few months into her tenure as secretary of State. But now she’s pretty into it.

Her handicap index is a respectable 16.4, and her best-scoring game so far is an 87. Rice told Golf Digest that she is a “very aggressive” player and that her “inner Phil Mickelson comes out quite frequently. I'm fairly long, but a little wild with my driver. I'm a very good putter."

Rice has played at Augusta twice before (previously, women could play only as guests, often the week before the Masters tournament). Now that she’s a member, with full-fledged access, she can hit the famed course at her leisure with other illustrious members, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and former South Carolina Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz.

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