Women and Augusta National: Same old same old

(This article was written in May of 2012, following publication of my novel Ang Tak, set at the Masters)

Another sexist tempest at the Masters, this time over the CEO of IBM. The company is a long-time supporter of the tournament and every CEO since the world was young has been invited to join Augusta National Golf Club.

But not this time. This time, an infamous snub, because like the Masters, Augusta National is male-only and IBM’s CEO is a woman.

Ho. Hum.

The only reason anyone gives a damn about this sort of thing anymore is because Augusta National happens to put on what is arguably the best-loved and most prestigious of all professional golf tournaments. It’s seen as very wrong, therefore, that the club is male-only.

Not to me. Whether they don’t want to install facilities for women, or they do want to be able to kick off their shoes and make vulgar noises in the dining room, the reason doesn’t matter. The members are entitled to do as they please, and to be judged accordingly.

I’ve got to add that if women could compete in the tournament—that is, if women were physically capable of competing against men at the highest levels of golf—then the all-male rule at Augusta National would seem outrageous to me.

Unfortunately, women are not able to compete head to head with men. Annika Sorenstam gave it a great try a few years ago and came up short. Michelle Wei has tried. Also came up short. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying. The great Babe Zaharias made the cut in several tournaments back in the 1940s and no doubt another woman will do it again one day.

Until then, women at the Masters—as players or members—is an annual tempest in a teapot.

I had to face this this issue head-on a few years ago when beginning my novel Ang Tak, about a young golfer and his caddie at the Masters. The event is so relentlessly male I wanted to inject a female element to broaden the novel’s appeal. So I made my caddie a woman, and made her the narrator. Kat (her name) holds a similar opinion to mine about the issue of women as members. Similar, but not the same: she thinks their choice is a dumb one. But like me, she also thinks they’re entitled to make it.

It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to ask if a woman would even want to be a member of this particular club. Yes, you’d be in influential and well-heeled company, with a membership that includes names like Buffett, Gates and Bechtel. (The club is so wealthy, in fact, they don’t even depend on sponsorship. One of the many reasons to love the tournament so much is because of the wondrous announcement that issues forth each year from the Chairman’s mouth: the one about no more than four minutes of advertising each hour.)

But—forgive me—how exciting would it be to be a member? I guess it depends on your tastes. Ten years ago the average age was 78. That’s probably come down somewhat since, but no one knows for sure. The membership of Augusta National is a well-kept secret.

The fact is, Augusta National will decide to invite a woman to join when it feels it cannot afford not to. Which may be next week or never. And whether or not we ever find out—that too will be up to the men of Augusta National. I’m good with that.

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Update: In August 2012, Augusta National announced two new members, both women: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
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