Sally Jenkins
Sally Jenkins
Columnist

Augusta National gains stature by admitting Condoleezza Rice, Darla Moore

Video: In a historic change, Augusta National invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.

How little those newest members of Augusta National golf club, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, need the clout that joining an all-male stronghold supposedly confers. On the contrary, if anyone gained status from the club’s decision to include women for the first time in its 80-year history, it was the other members. Rice and Moore will class the joint up.

It never mattered a whit to the fate and future of American women whether a female gained admittance to a small closed society of 300 or so duffers in an old Civil War arsenal town. Anyone who considered Monday’s announcement a powerful symbolic victory was wrong: Rice and Moore have earned plenty of victories, gained entirely on their own and not in the least bit symbolic.

When Rice and Moore slip on their green members jackets it will be an arresting moment — but not for the reasons posed by those who demanded Augusta accept a woman as a blackmailed concession to social engineering, or some lame gesture of affirmation. It will be arresting for their sheer subversion of that tired old dynamic. What we have here isn’t a case of powerful men granting acceptance to a couple of women and uplifting them to a new level of social stature. What we have here is a couple of powerfully successful women uplifting a bunch of men to new stature — and granting them social amnesty.

Rice and Moore are likely to be the most professionally high-achieving members of Augusta National, home of the Masters, which was built by the golf great Robert Jones 80 years ago not as a social club, but rather a world-class course and masterpiece of landscape architecture.

Over the years the membership evolved; it fancied itself collectors of dignified yet aggressive businessmen. Members are said to include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Kenneth Chenault, Sanford Weill, George Schultz, and executives from Coca-Cola, General Electric, Rockwell, Bechtel, etc.

Rice and Moore’s leadership credentials stand up to any of them. It’s easy to overlook Moore, 58, given that she is being talked about in tandem with Rice, 57, national security adviser and secretary of state under President George W. Bush. Like Rice, Moore is self-made. She started out a farm kid in Lake City, S.C., found her way to Washington to work for the Republican National Committee, got a master’s from George Washington in 1981, and joined Chemical Bank, where she rose from a trainee to the highest paid woman in the entire banking industry in just a decade. She had a knack for taking companies from bankruptcy to profitability; Fortune magazine declared her “the toughest babe in business,” and “a cross between the Terminator and Kim Basinger,” and credits her with tripling the wealth of her partner-husband, Texas financier Richard Rainwater. The University of South Carolina’s business school named itself after her; she has given it about $70 million.

But Moore’s career in philanthropy is even more interesting. She launched the Palmetto Institute, an independent nonprofit dedicated to increasing the income of every person in South Carolina. And she has devoted the last two years to funding science research since her husband was diagnosed with a tragic degenerative brain illness called progressive supranuclear palsy, which is like Alzheimer’s disease, only faster. Moore has helped Rainwater launch and finance a private panel of world-renowned researchers to work on the disease. The panel’s findings are likely to have a significant impact on Alzheimer’s research. If that’s not enough, Moore is on the national board of directors of Teach for America.

“My single greatest strength is seeing through the smoke into chaos, and operating where everything is exploding,” she told Fortune.

Her interest in golf, you ask? For one thing, the family firm, Rainwater Inc., bought Pebble Beach. And she is a longtime close friend of Hootie Johnson, the former chairman of Augusta who was so (unfairly) vilified by Martha Burk a decade ago for its all-male policy.

After reading up on Moore, what’s striking is that Augusta has hardly invited a couple of magnolias to become the first female members — these are unshrinking, even threatening women who have taken care of plenty of male adversaries. Moore once ousted T. Boone Pickens from his own company, Mesa Petroleum, and we all saw how Rice outlasted defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, telling the president, as she relates in her memoir, “I don’t intend to spend my energy sparring with Don. I’m going to lead U.S. foreign policy and I don’t need his input.”

Rice took up golf in 2005 as a stress reliever, but she’s already a 14 handicap. She told Golf Digest last year that she has hired Graeme McDowell’s swing coach, and is strong enough to have played a round with Phil Mickelson. Get this. The first time she played Pebble, she parred the opening hole. “I don’t like anything that’s just an ‘escape,’ ” she said. That’s what Augusta has let itself in for.

A lot of people rushed to take credit-by-association for this “joyous occasion,” as Augusta Chairman Billy Payne put it. Burk hit the radio and suggested it couldn’t have happened without her, even though her protest a decade ago was a comic exercise, as well as an insult to the right of privacy. The commissioner of the PGA Tour and chairman of AT&T both issued applauding statements, even though they were hardly on the front lines when it came to lobbying Augusta to open its doors to female members.

In fact, only two people are responsible for breaking the gender barrier at Augusta: Rice and Moore. Moore was under consideration for membership years ago during the Burk affair, but declined to lobby publicly because she understood that something more important than symbol was at stake: It has never been the right thing to use political pressure to compromise a club’s privacy. Augusta members are past due in admitting women, but it’s far preferable that they did so voluntarily. It spares them a good deal of ridicule that the women they invited in are no tokens, but the most commanding people in the room.

Joining Augusta is not an achievement. It’s a luxury. The achievement came years ago.

For previous columns by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.

 
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