Augusta National finally admitted a woman, but did so on its own terms
The news that Augusta National has admitted two female members surprised me, and of course, that was the point. This had to happen on Augusta's terms, the Augusta way.
Augusta National did the right thing by admitting Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. The club should be commended. But if you look at how and what just happened, it provides a window into a club that would prefer to be windowless.
Augusta's members are all wealthy, but the overriding theme of the place is not money. It is not sexism, either. For a long time, the overriding theme seemed to be racism, but even that wasn't really the point.
Augusta National is about power. And this was a power move, from start to finish. When activist Martha Burk campaigned for Augusta National to admit a woman in 2002, she had no shot. The powerful do not succumb to pressure.
Privately, a lot of Augusta National members probably would have been fine with a woman member years ago. So many don't even live in Georgia -- they aren't typical country-club types, playing four rounds a week and eating a bunch of meals there. They belong because it's cool, because it's fun, and because this is a sign you are powerful: You belong to Augusta National.
This announcement is still about power, from the timing to the women involved. Augusta chairman Billy Payne would never announce, on the eve of the tournament, that he would admit two women members. That would make it seem like a big deal, a philosophical shift and Augusta doesn't want to give its critics a crumb. So the announcement came in August, when nobody is thinking about this, and nobody can say Augusta National caved.
Payne called this a "joyous occasion," and acknowledged the historic moment for the club. But his statement also said: "We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different."
A lot of people expected IBM CEO Virginia Rometty to be the first female member, because IBM CEOs are traditionally invited to join, and Rometty plays golf. But as soon as the media pushed Rometty's candidacy, she was doomed. Augusta National would never, ever give the media the power to choose its members. If Rometty gets in next year, it will be because Augusta wanted her, not because the media demanded it.
Sometimes social progress happens in big obvious leaps: Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers. And sometimes it comes in small steps. This is a small but symbolic step. And the amazing thing is that it took so long to do something that was so easy.
This had turned into an annual nuisance for Payne and Augusta. As club chairman, he had to preside over the annual "Welcome to the Toonament" press conference, and it became increasingly hostile and ridiculous.
The wait seemed silly. But for Augusta National, the wait was the point. Augusta National admitted two women, and that is the big story around the country. At the club, though, the story is a bit different: Augusta National admitted who it wanted, when it wanted. And it always will.