Augusta National has elected two women, Condeleeza Rice and Darla Moore, as members, finally caving into the unrelenting pressure of Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, who threatened the club with sponsor boycotts of its famed Masters tournament in 2002 unless it agreed to admit female members with no further delay. Burk greeted the news by saying, “we won.”
Actually, not really. Burk was completely humiliated by Augusta. When she threatened to shut down the Masters, the Club pulled off a masterful end-run by advising its core sponsors, which included ATT, Exxon and IBM, that the Masters would decline sponsorships in order to protect their long-time corporate supporters from any embarrassment. The club’s president at the time, Hootie Johnson, famously said that while women would inevitably be invited to join, it would be at the club’s own choosing, and “not at the point of a bayonet.”
Burk was completely neutralized, and the Masters continued without missing a beat, as network affiliates happily filled the vacant ad slots. The tournament resumed accepting sponsors after a two-year hiatus. After that, no one paid much attention to Burk.
When I first read of Burk’s “campaign,” I thought “Well, this ought to keep women out of Augusta for another five years.” I was wrong. It took ten. When IBM appointed a female CEO, Virgina Rometty, the club further annoyed pundits who crowed “They’ll have to admit her” by declining to extend an offer, and, when it announced the election of its first female members, Rometty was not one of them.
Ultimately, Augusta finally “did the right thing.” Their position all along has been that they are a private club, and that there are many such clubs, some of them profitable businesses, that have a “women only policy.” Critics argued on many levels that Augusta was different; that its national prominence and its symbolic value imposed at the least a moral obligation to take a leadership position and abjure any type of discrimination. These arguments are not without merit, and deserve to be heard and considered.
But threatening a private club with the cancellation of a tournament that it was proud to present and that millions enjoy was an act of thuggery: my way or the highway. It didn’t work. And it shouldn’t have.
And “we won?” Actually, it was a rout. Augusta won hands down. I’m very happy that the club has opened itself to women, and think they should have done it a lot sooner. And they might well have — if not for Burk.