Masters golf: 12 women candidates for Augusta National membership

The Augusta National Golf Club finds itself in a very awkward situation this week as it hosts the 76th Masters Tournament. The dilemma it faces stems from the club’s policy of accepting only men as members.

A move to end the policy was mounted in 2003 by the chairman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, but the protest failed.  But now it appears that it may be harder than ever to keep women out, especially one woman: Virginia M. Romnetty, who was named the new chief executive officer of International Business Machines Corp. in October.

IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the Masters, and it’s been traditional for the men who run the sponsoring companies, including Exxon and AT&T, to be extended invitations to join Augusta National. And although Ms. Romnetty doesn’t play golf frequently, she does consider herself a golfer. 

Neither she nor the club, whose members include corporate titans such as Warren Buffett and T. Boone Pickens, has said much publicly about the newly percolating controversy. IBM, however, could face difficulty in explaining to customers how it can sponsor an event hosted by a club that won’t invite its CEO to join.

It’s conceivable that behind Augusta National’s tightly closed doors, a move is already in the works to usher Romnetty into the fold. Be that as it may, just adding one woman to the membership wouldn’t seem the proper way to open up this male bastion.

To do it right, wouldn’t it be better to add a group of women? Here are a dozen whose personal stature and golfing backgrounds make them logical candidates:

Hollis Stacy

Before joining the LPGA tour in 1974, the Savannah, Ga., native became the only player to ever win the US Junior Girls Championship three times, doing it consecutively, beginning in 1969.  Before that, however, her passion for the sport was fueled by attending the 1966 Masters in nearby Augusta. She collected many player autographs, including that of Ben Hogan, and says she still has the ticket stubs from the tournament. Now a Denver resident, she will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May in St. Augustine, Fla. 

Melinda Gates

Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in this 2007 file photo. (Pascal Lauener/REUTERS/File)

Yes, this is the Melinda Gates of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation fame. The more athletic spouse, she has run the Seattle Marathon and climbed to the top of Mount Ranier.  She also has gotten her husband, the chairman of Microsoft, interested in playing golf.  There have been reports she’s interested in getting into the golf apparel business for women when not keeping tabs on the couple’s $37 billion philanthropic foundation.

Condoleezza Rice

U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice listens to a question from then-Senator Barack Obama during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in this 2005 file photo. (John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

The former US Secretary of State and current political science professor is a big sports fan and an avid golfer who plays about three times a week on Stanford University’s campus course during the summer. She takes lessons in both Palo Alto, Calif., and in Birmingham, Ala., her hometown and the location of the once-segregated Shoal Creek club, where she is a member.  In an online interview with Golf Digest, she said her goal is to break 90 more consistently. In speaking of her aggressive approach to playing the game, she says, “My inner Phil Mickelson comes out quite frequently.”

Judy Rankin

A golf broadcaster and former LPGA great, Rankin was the 2002 recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor the US Golf Association gives. It honors distinguished sportsmanship and is named for Bob Jones, legendary amateur champion of the 1920s who cofounded the Masters tournament and designed the Augusta National course. Rankin won 26 LPGA events during a professional career that began in 1962 at age 17. She is one of the few women to serve as a TV analyst on men’s tournaments, working for ABC and ESPN.

Celine Dion

In this 2011 file photo, Celine Dion performs at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson/AP/File)

NBC Sports ranks the French-Canadian pop music superstar as one of golf’s top celebrity players. She owns a 36-hole course, Le Mirage, near her home in Montreal. After she and her husband, a golf fanatic, purchased an interest in the club in 1997, she began taking lessons and fell in love with the game. That led them to become owners of the club.

Patricia Ann Woertz

Woertz certainly would fit in with the captains of industry who hold membership at Augusta National. The chief executive officer of Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness giant, was ranked the third most powerful woman by Fortune magazine in 2010. A serious golfer, she reportedly refuses to hit from the women’s tees, preferring to tee off from the slightly more distant men’s tees.

Diana Murphy

Murphy is a Georgian and one of just three women on the 15-member executive board of the US Golf Association, the sport’s national governing body. The resident of St. Simons Island, Ga., is the managing director of Rocksolid Holdings LLA, a private equity firm that specializes in small business and real estate deals.

Katie Blackburn

Besides being a golfer, Blackburn is the perfect person to talk football with the members of Augusta National. In her capacity as executive vice president of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, she handles all the player contract negotiations. Blackburn played ice hockey at Dartmouth. She hails from a football family. Her father, Mike Brown, is the Bengals’ president, and her grandfather, Paul Brown, founded the team and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a one of the sport’s most innovative coaches. 

Nancy Lopez

Nancy Lopez (l.) is pictured with Suzy Whaley (c.) and Donna Richardson Joyner, representing the American Express Women's Golf Month spokeswomen team. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Lopez cemented her golfing fame in 1978, when as an LPGA newcomer she won five straight tournaments and was named both the tour’s Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year.  A World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, she is the first woman to receive the Frances Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf. For a time she and her husband, Ray Knight, a former major-league baseball player, lived in Albany, Ga., across the state from Augusta. She still hosts the Lopez Golf Classic in Albany, which raises money for the local Hospice.   

Sandra Day O’Connor

In this 2004 file photo, US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor smiles after she received the Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official during a ceremony at the American Institute for Public Service Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C. (Adele Starr/AP/File)

O’Connor made history as the first female Supreme Court Justice when Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1981. Retired since 2006, she might not play much golf anymore, but she knows the game. O'Connor took it up mid-career when she was encouraged to play while visiting friends in Wisconsin.  She and Glen Nager, the first Supreme Court clerk she hired, were frequent playing partners. Nager went on to become president of the US Golf Association. Of O’Connor’s game, he once told the Washington Post: “She hits the ball disgustingly straight. There was a reason she was the center of the court all those years.”

Annika Sorenstam

In this 2008 file photo, former LPGA golfer Annika Sorenstam, of Sweden, looks on before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals in New York. (Frank Franklin II/AP/File)

The native of Sweden has gone from being the top golfer on the LPGA tour to one of the most entrepreneurial individuals in the golf business. She and Jack Nicklaus teamed up in trying to land the job of designing the golf course for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. They didn’t win the assignment, but her credentials as a serious course developer are well established. Her ANNIKA brand unifies her foundation, golf academy, financial services company, and website. Sorenstam is this year’s recipient of the Bob Jones Award for exemplary sportsmanship.

Janet Jones Gretzky

Mike and Alicia Piazza (l.) with Janet Jones-Gretzky and Wayne Gretzky are seen at the 2011 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational gala event in Las Vegas. (ARIA Resort/PRNewsFoto)

Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s all-time scoring leader, has had to take something of a back seat to his wife on the golf course. Both are avid players, but Janet Jones Gretzky, an actress, model, and TV celebrity, has won several pro-am celebrity golf competitions, including the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational. The couple considers the Country Club of Scottsdale (Ariz.) their home course.