Augusta National Golf Club membership suddenly not so private


Augusta National Golf Club announced Monday that it named its first two female members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The exclusive, secretive golf club that says it never discusses private membership matters has made quite the public announcement.

On Monday, Augusta National Golf Club, which plays host to the annual Masters tournament and has drawn controversy for not having female members, released the news that it had finally named two women to its membership roster: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore.

In the statement, chairman Billy Payne reportedly said “This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club.” He added that “this is a significant and positive time in our Club's history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”

Both Moore and Rice commented on their memberships, too. “I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf,” Rice said in a statement. Moore, the vice president of the private investment company Rainwater, said “Augusta National has always captured my imagination, and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April.”

All this from a club that has long kept it membership rolls secret and has repeatedly said it keeps all of its membership discussions private. Five months ago, when questions swirled once again about Augusta National inviting a woman to join its membership ranks now that one of its corporate sponsors, IBM, was helmed by a woman (the CEOs of other corporate sponsors traditionally had memberships), Payne deflected questions. Asked whether the club’s decision not to admit her might reflect negatively on it, Payne answered awkwardly that “there's certainly a difference of opinion on that, and I don't think I have formed an opinion on that.” 

And yet, here we are five months later, and the club is publicly calling the occasion “joyous” and “enthusiastically” welcoming two new female members to the club. I agree it’s a historic moment and one that is worth celebrating. But in making a public statement about adding women to its ranks, the club has now undercut its defense about membership being such a private affair. It may be announcing this news so that it can try to put the controversial questions about female membership behind it. But in choosing to open up specifically in moments like this, it may very well have a harder time saying club membership is a truly private matter in the future.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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