The Washington Post

Don’t give Augusta National the credit

At long last, the Augusta National Golf Club will finally admit women members.

Two, to be exact: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore, who appeared on the cover of Fortune in 1997 under the charmingly sexist headline of “The Toughest Babe in Business.”

As might be expected, Augusta National officials have been quick to claim the moral high ground for the club, where membership — and the famous green jackets that come with it — is by invitation only. In a statement on Monday, the club’s chairman, Billy Payne, declared this a “joyous occasion,” calling it “a significant and positive time in our club’s history.”

Sorry, Mr. Payne — not exactly.

This is a “joyous occasion,” but that has little to do with Augusta National’s virtue. No matter how much brandy you slurp at the Nineteenth Hole, the club, even with these new members, is still the sort of place that only bows to progress at gunpoint — or, in the words of its former chairman, “at the point of a bayonet.” The credit due here belongs to Martha Burk and to the enduring power and relevance of the women’s movement.

Ten years ago, Burk — a psychologist and former chair of National Council of Women’s Organizations — read an article in USA Today about the famous golf club’s men-only membership policy. She wrote to Hootie Johnson, then the club’s chairman, urging him to reconsider the membership policies. When he refused, what should have been a prompt adjustment erupted into a national debate over the rights of private organizations and the place of women in business and society.

In the course of this debate, Burk was criticized, patronized, belittled, vilified and dismissed. Someone even threatened to come after her with his AK-47. Despite all of those threats, however, she never backed down. And now, ten years later, thanks to her efforts, two women are about to become full members of one of the most exclusive private institutions in America.

Let this be an example to all those who either celebrate or lament the alleged decline of the women’s movement. It may not be as visible, as organized or as unified as it could be, but — as Burk and her efforts have shown — its power and its capacity to enact long overdue change is far from dead. In the long road ahead to gender equality, there are hundreds of other Augusta Nationals in this county — from the golf course to the boardroom. May Burke serve as a much-needed reminder that “status” needn’t be married to “quo.”


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