The London Olympics, as I wrote two weeks ago, turned out to be a great showcase of female athletic talent and the progress American women — and women in general — have made in sports, particularly in the 40 years since Title IX became law and guaranteed them equal access. Today’s announcement that Augusta National Golf Club — the Georgia country club that plays host to men’s professional golf’s biggest tournament — is admitting its first female members would seem, then, another sign of progress for female athletes just a week after the Olympics ended.
Chairman Billy Payne certainly deserves a little credit for taking a step the men before him would not and admitting the club’s first two female members — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore — both of whom immediately accepted. A little praise, however, is all Augusta deserves for progressing roughly (no pun intended) three quarters of the way through the 20th century.
Augusta, full of green-clad white men who for years denied women and blacks the opportunity to join and play its fabled course, has long epitomized the worst stereotypes of golf, a sport that has made genuine efforts to increase opportunities for women and minorites in recent years, as a game for the white, male one-percent. It didn’t admit its first black member until 1990, 15 years after Lee Elder became the first African-American to play in the Masters. Now, it is admitting its first female members a full 63 years after the foundation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
The club didn’t relent on its membership policy when it faced widespread criticism and a mass protest led by Dr. Martha Burk in 2003; instead, it dug in deeper. And it didn’t relent earlier this year when it didn’t extend membership to Virginia Rometty, the chief executive of IBM, one of the Masters three chief sponsors (the CEOs of the other two sponsors, as well as Rometty’s predecessor at IBM, are members). In 2011, it banned a female journalist from the locker room, drawing protests from news organizations and other reporters.
Augusta, make no mistake, is still the bastion of inequality and elitism it has always been. It’s just a little less so now. As far as credit for the “progress” Augusta National has supposedly made, I’ll reserve that for the day the club hosts a women’s tournament and finally joins the rest of us in the 21st century.