In a way, it’s frustrating if understandable that Augusta National’s announcement that it has finally admitted a woman as a member -two women, in fact - is such big news. It’s all over the media. Hosts of radio and television shows want comment. The beast must be fed. What’s it all about, Augusta?
The move and the news are far overdue. Augusta National could have put the matter to rest long ago, but, as former club chairman Hootie Johnson famously said nearly a decade ago, it wouldn’t do so “at the point of a bayonet.” The National Council of Women’s Organizations’ Martha Burk organized a protest against its men-only membership policy on a five-acre, city-approved gathering place in Augusta during the 2003 Masters. Only 40 supporters showed up. The protest went nowhere as far as achieving results, although it did draw worldwide attention. And that was that.
I understand the symbolism inherent in Augusta National admitting former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore as its first female members. The exclusive, and exclusionary, club that hosts golf’s most famous tournament has announced to the world that it’s opening its closely-guarded entrance that leads down Magnolia Lane and the clubhouse to women. Club chairman Billy Payne said in the club’s press release that this is a “joyous” occasion.
It’s not. The news reminds us of how backward golf at the highest levels can be, and too often is. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews doesn’t have any female members, yet it conducts the Open Championship. Augusta National hasn’t until now invited females to join, and it hosts the Masters. How’s that for “a tradition like no other,” to cite the odious phrase that CBS uses ad nauseam during its annual Masters telecasts.
There are four major championships in golf. Clubs that restrict their memberships to men have conducted two of them. That’s been a blight on the game at large, even if a private club isn’t legally bound to invite female members. Golf is often said to be a game for participants aged eight to 80, and beyond. It’s a rewarding lifetime sport and recreation. Just about every golf club welcomes females as members.
But Augusta National today is getting attention around the world because it has admitted two women as members. The club is far and away the exception to the rule that golf is a game for everybody. Why should it be applauded because it now admits female members? It’s off-putting when reactionaries are perceived as revolutionaries. Augusta National’s admitting female members isn’t a cause for celebration. If it's a cause for anything, it’s a cause for reflection.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein