The Washington Post

Augusta’s CEO problem is a question of character

My father and brother, two of the most important men in my life, love golf. They play golf. They watch golf. They read about golf. They go to golf tournaments. They subscribe to golf magazines. They talk about all things related to golf every day of the week.


Virginia "Ginni" Rometty, chief executive officer of International Business Machines Corp. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

I grew up in a household in which learning about the achievements of Lee Elder, the first African American to play in the Masters, was just as important as learning about the achievements of other great American “firsts” like Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Dr. Charles Drew, the first black surgeon selected as an examiner for the American Board of Surgery, and Alain Locke, the first African-American Rhodes Scholar.

Which is why it’s so disappointing that Augusta National, host to the Masters tournament, still clings to its antiquated rule of not letting women join the club.

Women have protested the long-standing policy and lost before.

But IBM is one of the tournament’s three corporate sponsors and has been for years. Traditionally, Augusta offers the CEO of the company a membership. According to Yahoo Sports, the last three CEOs of IBM are reportedly members at Augusta. Only now, the company’s CEO is a woman, Virginia “Ginni” Rometty.

What’s Augusta to do? The club has not confirmed whether or not it plans to invite Ms. Rometty, who is reportedly an occasional golfer. The situation puts the club in a tough position. Rather than not extending an invitation to a woman, it would be not extending a traditional invitation to a sponsoring CEO because she’s a woman. I have a real problem with that.

Augusta National is hardly the model of modernity and inclusion. Lee Elder first played the course in 1975 and still the first membership wasn’t offered to an African American until 1990. The club’s by-laws are famously secret and its membership list isn’t officially published, though Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and T. Boone Pickens are reportedly members. You get the idea. You have to be male, incredibly wealthy and accomplished to receive an invite. With the exception of her “femaleness,” Ms. Rometty is all of the above.

It baffles me what the members of this club must tell their daughters. How do they tell their girls they can be anything they want in this world except a member of daddy’s club? This isn’t a matter of a private club making its own rules and being able to do what it chooses because it’s private. It’s a matter of a group of people purposely excluding an entire gender. Legal or not, it’s morally wrong.

This club is stuck in an ugly past in which discrimination was not only normal but acceptable. How many more accomplished, successful women can they allow to be passed up for membership solely because of their gender? As with all things related to golf, this, too, is a matter of character.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy and is a contributor to The Hill.com and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.

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