The decision of the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, to accept the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and the financier Darla Moore as members comes a few decades too late. Still, it is a welcome sign of progress and reflects the reality of a changing world in which excluding women is bad for business.
Augusta, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament, is more than just a private club. It is where some of the most wealthy and successful people in U.S. politics, business and society gather to network, make deals and enjoy access to privilege and power. Billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are members, along with many CEOs.
In the words of the author Orin Starn: “It’s the country club in America, and it’s the place where golf and politics and business are done.”
By barring women for so many years, the club failed to adapt to changes in the contemporary workplace. This came into sharp relief earlier this year when the club did not extend the customary honorary membership and green jacket to Virginia Rometty – the CEO of IBM, one of the main Masters sponsors – because she is a woman.
Beyond being sexist, the decision was surely not a great way to promote the brand, especially for an institution with a history of discrimination. (Augusta did not invite an African-American to join until 1990, and at one time had a policy requiring all caddies to be black.)
Of course, private clubs in the United States (and in Canada) are legally permitted to restrict their membership on the basis of gender, provided they do no business with the government and there are no local laws prohibiting gender-based clubs. And there is nothing inherently wrong with women-only spas and gyms, or men-only clubs and sports teams.
But Augusta National is so much more than a place to work on your handicap. Given its role in promoting the sport, and its place in the business world, the club can and should be held to higher standards. Good that Augusta is belatedly making some effort to live up to them.
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