Condi & Darla: The First Women Allowed at Augusta National Beejoli Shah

Golf is not my sport.  It requires a patience and sense of inner calm that I do not possess, and levels of hand eye coordination that I will never reach.  But golf has literally been all I could talk about today to anyone who would listen (and not just because I’ve been practicing my Wii Golf skills in anticipation of a heated Nintendo showdown with my roommate on Labor Day).

For those of you who haven’t caught the latest news on the golf front: former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and businesswoman and philanthropist extraordinaire Darla Moore were just admitted into the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, as the first female members in the club’s 79 year history.  Augusta National is also home to the Master’s Tournament – one of the four major golf tournaments in the USA.

Augusta National is a private club, and though they have had some controversy in the past over their membership policies (most notably through media attacks led by feminist Martha Burk in 2002), they have remained staunch in their viewpoint: many clubs and societies, including the Junior League, the Boys and Girl Scouts and sororities and fraternities at colleges all over America restrict membership based on gender.  Their membership policies, to them at least, weren’t based on misogyny, they were based on decades of tradition that Augusta National didn’t feel compelled to overturn.

But here we are, with Condoleeza and Darla having gained membership to a group of extremely elite businessmen and politicians.  To be sure, the two ladies stand out amongst the pack of current members.  Aside from being on George W. Bush’s cabinet, Condi was the first black woman to be the national security adviser and is the first female (and youngest!) provost of Stanford University.  Darla not only worked for the Republican National Committee, but rose to becoming the highest paid woman in the banking industry just 10 years after she was first a trainee at Chemical Bank.  She also runs a non-profit dedicated to increasing the income of every South Carolina resident, and has spent years funding Alzheimer’s Research.

Both women are forces to be reckoned with, and can easily go toe to toe professionally with many of the current members (rumored to include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet), which is what got me thinking.  For two women so educated and so powerful in their own right, why would they want to join a club that excluded women for so long, solely on the basis of gender?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a good answer for this question.  I was never into the sorority scene much myself, but I can’t lie and say it was because I was a young feminist – I just didn’t like the idea of having to share my mascara.  I was only briefly in the Girl Scouts, but again, dropped out due to a fear of nature, not a stand against gender based organizations.

I’ve gone over this in my head all day, and while I am glad that Augusta National has changed their policies, I don’t know that I’m ready to celebrate them voluntarily allowing women in either.  I think what they are doing is commendable and will absolutely break barriers and change the face of golf for the greater good, but if I was in Condoleeza or Darla’s shoes (and believe me, those are some extremely large shoes to fill!), I don’t think I’d want to join Augusta National.  It would never sit well with me that I was a member of a club that once excluded women.

I was raised to believe that women could do anything they want, and if someone says you can’t – solely because of gender – find every way to prove them wrong, and never give them the time of day after that.  I am proud of Augusta National for taking a progressive stance of late, but I just can’t wrap my mind around what they were waiting for.

What do you think?  Am I being too harsh on the private club?  Or is it time that organizations everywhere recognized equality – for both women and men?

Feature image by Mark Ralston/Getty Images via Washington Post

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  1. Beejoli, you are the next generation and there are so many things that you get to take for granted that my generation and those before brought to the table, Keep stepping forward, taking the chance, chipping away. It is important!!!

  2. I think there’s a distinction to be made between an organization centered around its male members, and one that is anti-women. That’s not to say that I think boys’ clubs such as Augusta National are healthy for gender equality – quite the contrary. But I think we as a progressive culture are at risk for overly demonizing those who disagree with us. Maybe these amazing women wanted to join Augusta National because it’s the best, and the fact that they were previously excluded from membership isn’t important. In order for us to truly move forward, we need to be willing to let go of past grievances and look to the future. Otherwise what incentive is there for people and organizations to modernize, if they know they will continue to be criticized for their past mistakes instead of being praised for their current moves in the right direction?

    • Definitely a great point Jenny – but for me, since so many similar organizations DID modernize far long ago in their views on women, Augusta National is behind the times without reasoning that I can stand by. I completely respect their views and I am glad that two strong women made them step up to the plate and change their stance, but as far as I’m concerned, given that they chose to exclude women far longer than most of their other peers makes me not want to be a part of a club that didn’t really want me in the first place.

  3. Melissa & Robert – I agree with you! Like I mentioned above, I’m not sure how I feel about this. By my own logic, I also shouldn’t have attended public school since at one point in time people of my skin color weren’t allowed to attend either. I’m tentatively hesitant on how I feel about this – I am happy that Augusta National is letting women in as members now, I just feel that in 2012 when gender equality is much less of an issue than it was before, Augusta National is behind the times. And for that reason – that even when the furor was kicked up in 2002, and they declined women entry then – I have a hard time celebrating this decision now, without wondering what the basis for their anti-women stance was for so long!

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    • “…but if I was in Condoleeza or Darla’s shoes (and believe me, those are some extremely large shoes to fill!), I don’t think I’d want to join Augusta National. It would never sit well with me that I was a member of a club that once excluded women.”

      I see your point, but two incredibly smart, talented, and influential women SHOULD be the ones to change Augusta National’s long-standing policies. They are just the type of women to make the club realize they should have welcomed women years ago. Golf is an extremely male-dominated sport (believe me, I play) and so is business and politics (believe me again, I’m involved with both), so I applaud any opportunity for a businesswoman and a woman in politics to break down that barrier. Now I hope they show those guys who’s boss on the course!

      • I sort of get your point Melissa, but most sports are male dominated…but most of them haven’t restricted women from playing on their feilds or pitches or courts. That’s what really gets me.
        It’s not like Augusta is a few years behind on this… they’re like a generation behind… that’s a bit of a slap in the face.

      • By your logic, women should never have entered politics since they were not allowed to at one point, and they should never want to be preisdent. I could on on with every other change in history where people do something that in history they had previously not been entitled to do.