Weeks: Augusta National moves in the right direction

Bob Weeks
8/21/2012 9:51:08 AM
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I'm sure somewhere in another world, Clifford Roberts is spinning like a pinwheel on July 1 in his grave. His beloved Augusta National admitted two women yesterday, breaking the 80-year-old tradition of preventing them from becoming members and ending another horrible chapter in the club's history.

While Augusta National has a shoddy record on equality – the first African-American didn't get in until 1990 – give some credit to Billy Payne, the club's chairman, for dragging the facility into oh, the 1970s. In his short time as chairman, Payne has advanced the club more than any previous chairman, especially when it comes to the Masters tournament. He's reached out to Asia and created an amateur event there with the winner getting a spot in the field, understanding the burgeoning potential of that market. He's allowed live streaming of the tournament on the Internet. He's moved to have the event broadcast in 3-D. He created a new state-of-the-art practice facility for the players.

Heck, he even saw to it that the media dining area was remodeled.

Remember, it was only a few years ago that there wasn't even any coverage of the front nine of this tournament. Things generally move pretty slow around Augusta National and the move slower if someone from the outside is pushing. It's believed that's why Hootie Johnson didn't invite a woman to join, because Martha Burk was forcing the issue and holding a rally across the street from the club, which drew only about 30 supporters but a ton of media.

Payne, however, seems to understand the outside world a little better than most. He knows that if Augusta National wants to be a leader in the golf world, it can't be a stubborn sexist enclave inside. The memory of Payne chastising Tiger Woods for his infidelities a few years back, as an example, is side-splitting.

Now, at least, it's moved in the right direction by welcoming Darla Moore and Condoleeza Rice into the fold, albeit about 30 years too late. It's a good move and something that speaks to the golfing world on a larger level.

It also brings to the forefront golf's continuing exclusivity, racism, sexism and more. There are still many clubs around the world where women can't join, where African-Americans aren't welcome, where people of a certain religion are excluded and where the rich and powerful look down their wine stems at poor folks.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the Rules-setting, all-powerful body in the UK, is male only. Muirfield, site of next year's Open Championship, doesn't allow women members. Neither does Royal St. George's, where last year's event was held. That's atrocious by any standard.

In Canada, too, there are examples of clubs that exclude certain people from joining. The National Golf Club of Canada, ranked No. 1 in the SCOREGolf Top 100 ranking, is male only. The Ladies Golf Club of Toronto doesn't allow male members.

Will Augusta National's move be a tipping point? Will it force other clubs to open the doors? At the very least, Payne can now point the finger and not have to look over his shoulder.

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