Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Masters and Augusta National – Women are not welcome

For the most part, the world we live in today is the “Age of Enlightenment.” One of the hallmarks of our society is that men and women are more often than not, treated as equals, but unfortunately, not in every situation. One area where men and women are not treated equally is the Augusta National Golf Club, located in Augusta, Georgia – home to golf’s most prestigious event, The Masters.

Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and designed by Alister MacKenzie on the site of a former indigo plantation, the club opened for play in January 1933. Since 1934, it has played host to the Masters.

Augusta National Golf Club has about 300 members at any given time. Membership is strictly by invitation; there is no application process. It is believed that annual dues are low (less than $10,000 per year) given that profits from the Masters broadcast likely sustain the club.

Amid much criticism of exclusive and discriminatory admissions, Augusta accepted an African-American member in 1990. A woman has never been invited to join Augusta National. A great deal of attention has focused on IBM chief executive officer Virginia Rometty and whether or not she will break the Augusta National gender barrier.

The past four chief executives of IBM -- a longtime corporate sponsor of the Masters -- have been members of the exclusive club. Rometty became the CEO of the computer giant this year.
Masters Chairman Billy Payne met with the media on Wednesday, offering his annual “state of the Masters.”
Payne and a member of the media shared this exchange.

Q. Mr. Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, that deals with a Membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it.

Q. No, it doesn't.

Q. Seems like a mixed message, Billy, is what he's saying. You're throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there's still a perception that certain people are excluded.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That is a Membership issue that I'm not going to‑‑ thank you for your‑‑

Q. It sends—

Q. It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club; it's not a Membership question.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you for your question, sir.

Q. Mr. Chairman, as a grandfather, what would you say to granddaughters? How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, though expressed quite artfully, I think that's a question that deals with Membership, and‑

Payne might believe the membership issue is going to go away. Payne’s inability to deal with the issue will only fuel those determined to have Payne and Augusta National deal with women being invited to join Augusta National.

"I think they're both in a bind," Martha Burk told The Associated Press on Thursday evening. Ten years ago, Burk then the Chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, challenged Augusta National on the club’s refusal to invite a woman to play in the Masters. Hootie Johnson, chairman of the club at the time, said Augusta might one day have a female member, but it would be on the club's timetable, and "not at the point of a bayonet."

"We did raise the issue," Burk said on CNN. "If we had not done that, this would not be on the table now."

"What IBM needs to do is draw a line in the sand – (and say) ‘We're either going to pull our sponsorship and membership and any ancillary activities we support with the tournament, or the club is going to have to honor our CEO the way they have in the past,’" Burk said. "There's no papering over it. They just need to step up and do the right thing. They need to not pull that argument that they support the tournament and not the club. That does not fool anybody, and they could undermine their new CEO."

IBM is one of the Masters’ major sponsors. Rometty is well respected and regarded as one of the most powerful women in America today. It is inconceivable IBM would continue their partnership with Augusta National if the company’s CEO is not invited to join an organization that invited the current CEO’s four predecessors. IBM represents America, IBM is an American ideal. If Rometty is not invited to join Augusta in the near future, not only will IBM end their partnership with Augusta National, but IBM’s other corporate partners could end their relationships as well.

Payne was the CEO for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Two years ago, Payne stepped into the troubles Tiger Woods was having with his personal life and he was disappointed in Tiger saying “It’s not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here,” Payne said. “It is the fact he disappointed all of us and, more importantly, our kids and grandkids.

“As he ascended in our rankings of the world’s great golfers, he became an example to our kids,” Payne continued. “But as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility.”

Payne believed he had the right to judge Tiger Woods and his behavior, now Payne, his values and the beliefs of the Augusta National golf course are under the same microscope Payne placed Tiger Woods under, in large part because of how Tiger Woods treated a woman, his wife.

Rometty hasn’t raised the issue of her joining Augusta National. She knew the issue would come to her, given the long history of former IBM’s CEOs being asked to join Augusta National.

"Really, I don't think it's her responsibility," Burk said. "It's the board of directors. They need to take action here. They don't need to put that on her. They need to say, 'This is wrong. We thought the club was on the verge of making changes several years ago, and we regretfully end our sponsorship to maintain her credibility and the company brand.'”

Augusta National’s current membership includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jack Welch, Pete Coors, former chairman and CEO of Coors Brewing Company, current Chairman of Molson Coors Brewing Company & Miller Coors, James D. Robinson III, former CEO of American Express, Harold "Red" Poling, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, T. Boone Pickens, Jr., oil tycoon and Hugh L. McColl Jr., Former CEO of Bank of America – all Titans of industry.

The die has been cast, the issue can no longer be avoided – IBM chief executive officer Virginia Rometty must be invited to join Augusta National.

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