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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Women at Augusta

Everybody's buzzing 'bout the new members at Augusta National. Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore made history (again -- they're used to doing that, aren't they?) by becoming the first female members in the old boys' club.

The two new members

The reactions have been rapid and various. They span the gamut from the somewhat snarky editorial by Tim Kawakami at mercurynews.com to Martha Burk's cautious opinions at cnn.com to Christine Brennan's fairly pragmatic but upbeat article at usatoday.com to Rex Hoggard's largely fact-laden (but certainly optimistic) column at golfchannel.com. (Hoggard's column is the first one I've seen that says both women first came up for consideration 5 years ago, although he attributes it to the Associated Press.)

So -- and please pardon the golf puns -- is this a birdie, par, or bogey?

I think, first of all, we have to realize that probably nobody is completely on track here. This is a complex issue and I haven't (and can't possibly) read everything that's been written so far about it. Let me just give you a few of my own thoughts.

While I have no doubt that there's a large pocket of sexism at Augusta National, I also doubt that it's as all-pervasive as some would have us believe. I suspect the sexist group is simply more obnoxious about their beliefs than the rest of the membership and therefore determines policy more than the majority would like. The fact is that most players -- even the rich members at ANGC -- head to the course to get away from the hassles of business and therefore bide their time until they suspect they have the best chance to get things done.

I also imagine that this might have happened sooner had it not become such an issue. Forget the old boys' club image for a moment. No businessman who's had substantial success is going to let other people tell him what to do, especially if he views those people as less successful because they don't work hard enough. (I'm not saying they're right, just that's how people think. Do you like people getting in your business and telling you what to do?)

And it seems likely that Chairman Billy Payne is NOT one of those so-called "Neanderthals" who would be against this move. If there were only one progressive at ANGC, it would be Billy Payne.

But neither do I believe this is the "big breakthrough" it's being made out to be. Is it historically significant? Of course it is! Has it opened the doors for more women members? Potentially -- after all, you've got to have a first one before you can have a second one. But it certainly doesn't guarantee that the second one (in this case, third one) will get through that door.

Here's what I think everybody is overlooking. ANGC didn't just accept two women into membership, they accepted two exceptional women into their membership. Moore, among other accomplishments, was the first woman Forbes ever profiled on their cover and she's got a freaking business school named after her, for Pete's sake! Rice is a former Secretary of State, and that may be the least of her accomplishments.

My point here is that the bar for women members has been set extremely high. The old boys' club knows how hard it is for a woman to succeed in business, yet these women can hold their own against virtually any man you want to name! Call the sexist members "Neanderthals" if you want, but you'd have to be a complete idiot not to respect what these women have done... and it's unlikely someone THAT stupid would remain a member of ANGC for very long. Can you name a lot of women who have been this successful AND have the "passion for golf" that ANGC cites as a requirement?

In fact, I think you can make a serious argument that accepting these two accomplished women as members doesn't indicate a changed attitude at all. If Rice and Moore aren't acceptable members, I suspect ANGC would have to remove some of its existing membership simply because they haven't accomplished as much... and the ladies did it in a system that conspires against their success.

So while this is certainly a historic event that could send ripples through the golf world (this means you, R&A), I'll withhold judgment on whether things have really changed on Magnolia Lane.

But I'd also like to congratulate Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore on adding yet another accomplishment to their long lists of successes. Maybe things won't change as much as we hope, but they've still grabbed a couple of green jackets for themselves. I guess that'll be one more reason for the "Neanderthals" who haven't gotten an invite to grunt their disapproval. In that case, I have these words of advice for the ladies...

Next spring, when the cameras turn toward you and your green jackets, make sure you smile REAL BIG for them. As a wise man once said, "The best revenge is living well."

The photos came from Hoggard's column.

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