For the first time in its 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club will admit two women members: Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore. (DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP)

Darla Moore and Condoleeza Rice. (AP photos)

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club,” Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement. “We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different.

“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.

“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.”

And with that, an era has ended.

Augusta National opened in 1932 and excluded black members until 1990. Women have been allowed to play the course as guests, including on Sundays before the Masters week. Membership, however, was another matter. The timing and the female members had to be right for the club.

Rice, the former secretary of state, is an avid golfer. “I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf,” Rice, who once said her dream job was to be NFL commissioner, said in part in a statement. “I also have immense respect for the Masters tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world.”

Moore, is the vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company, and was labeled “the toughest babe in business” by Fortune in 1997. Her connections, though, are more social than athletic and she has long been considered a likely candidate for Augusta membership. She and former chairman Hootie Johnson go way back, with Johnson brokering a deal in which South Carolina became the first major college to name its business school after a woman.

“Darla kids Hootie about [becoming the club’s first female member],” her father, Gene Moore, said in a 2002 interview with the Associated Press. “She’s low-key on that. She’s too much of a friend to Hootie.” In Darla Moore’s family, her father said, her husband is the one who loves to play golf as often as possible.

Now, both Moore and Rice will be full members, an opportunity that took its sweet time arriving. It was 13 years ago, in an interview with USA Today’s Christine Brennan, that Johnson said he believed a woman would be admitted in “due time.” Ten years ago women’s rights leader Martha Burk drew headlines by protesting the club’s policy at the Masters. Johnson famously responded that Augusta would not change “at the point of a bayonet” and pulled television advertising for the broadcast. In 2003, Burk held unsuccessful protests outside the grounds.

Just last April, the policy was a magnet for criticism again, when the new chief executive of one of the Masters’ sponsors just happened to be a woman. Yet, despite the high-profile presence of IBM’s Ginni Rometty and polls that showed the club’s thinking to be outdated, nothing changed. Peppered with questions about the club’s policy, Payne said in a statement, “Once again, that deals with a membership issue and I’m not going to answer it.”

Now, he has. And Augusta is better off for the answer he chose.

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