The Last Boys Club: Women & Augusta National

Last weekend, as any sports fan knows, was The Masters. Arguably, it is the biggest tournament in professional golf. Professional men’s golf, that is. Women neither play a professional tournament at Augusta National nor are allowed to become members of the club. It is a place that values tradition above all else – a pimento cheese sandwich is still sold for $1.50, the famous azaleas are pruned to perfection, and it’s always, always, always a man’s world.

It’s also my favorite sporting event.

Growing up, golf was always a special bond between my father and I. Sure, my brother has a great swing and my sister loves Adam Scott, but Dad and I are fans. We e-mail news stories about our favorite players and record every tournament. If one of us scored tickets to The Ryder Cup, the other would be tapped to come along, no deliberation necessary. On my life list, the top two spots are: Play a round at Augusta and Attend The Masters with Dad. Like any other fan, I spend this one weekend in April glued to television. I pray that drive won’t hook left; I gasp in awe at the speed of the greens. Unfortunately, I also spend a lot of time defending my love of the tournament to friends.

How can I, a card-carrying feminist and well-educated woman, support an institution that is so anachronistically anti-women? Honestly, it’s difficult. This is one of the most gut-wrenching issues for me as a woman, despite how shallow it may seem to others.  As an outsider, it would be easy to recommend I just stop watching it, until Augusta admits women. Boycott that which oppresses us, right? Besides, it’s just a game.

Only…it’s not. For me, this one tournament – this one game – is the live battle between a talisman of my father-daughter relationship and my very passionate viewpoints on modern equality. I wish to cheer for the green jacket’s winner, just as much as I want to rail at the board members bestowing it. Because tradition is all well and good, but sexism cloaked as tradition? That’s not something to defend.

This year, finally, I had reason to hope. One of the unofficial traditions at Augusta is that a membership offer is extended to CEOs of the major tournament sponsors. As of January, one of those CEOs is now Virginia Rometty of IBM. That’s right. A woman. Cue shocked gasps and pearl clutching. Much was made in the media of whether or not a membership invitation would be extended to Rometty, before this year’s tournament. There has been a change in guard of the Augusta leadership, so most assumed this would be the year. After all, in an age where a woman is the CEO of a company so powerful it sponsors The Masters, shouldn’t that same woman be allowed to join the club?

If I ran the PR campaigns for Augusta, I would encourage them not only to invite women to join, but to insist on an LPGA event hosted there. Yes, they are a private club, allowed to make their own rules, but those same archaic rules threaten to turn the sport’s most revered event into a joke. Half the pre-Masters headlines this year dealt with Augusta’s stance on women, not the strength of the field. This is a game filled with brilliant men and women, both amateur and professional. Is there anyone who would argue Annika Sorenstam is less qualified to join Augusta than Phil Mickelson? They’re both living legends. They both deserve equal treatment by this nation’s greatest golf club. Anything less is backwards thinking.

Unfortunately, backwards it remains. Virginia Rometty attended the tournament not wearing a member’s green blazer, but a smart pink cardigan instead. There is talk that invitations take time to be extended to the new CEO, because Augusta is a notoriously secretive organization, which runs on its own shadowy timetable. But…I’m still disappointed. I felt like this was the year. This was the year I could watch my favorite tournament thinking “One day, both Dad and I could be members there.” Instead, this was the year I watched with a cynical eye. This was the year I was too focused on the background politics to notice the azaleas. Next year, if Rometty still isn’t a member, may be the year I don’t watch at all.

– Grace

8 thoughts on “The Last Boys Club: Women & Augusta National

  1. My dad actually asked me what I thought about the Masters last weekend, specifically the “men only” part. I said I would be okay with it if they had a women’s club of equal status. My stepmother and her mother said they didn’t care because they didn’t like golf, to which I responded, “That’s not really the point here.”

  2. I don’t think there is anything wrong with watching a sport that is a male-only sport. When I watch the NFL (I’m not a fan, but a mere onlooker), I don’t want to see women on the field. I don’t even like the women reporters on the field asking the football players questions. The only women who are allowed to be reporters are young and attractive, and I’m supposed to cheer that it is a step forward for feminism? Either get real women involved in meaningful places or leave it alone. When I want to see cheerleaders (and I do because I’m an ex-cheerleader), I watch the Cowboys Cheerleaders reality TV show and cheerleading competitions on ESPN and Bring it On. Don’t give up on this special time with your father.

  3. Great post! I felt conflicted this weekend too watching. I recently became a golf fan (nothing like you!) as my fiance is obsessed with the sport. Through a business opportunity, he was able to attend the Masters this year and while I was so thrilled for him to see one of his dreams come true, I also couldn’t help but be a little disgusted by it all. He defends it — it’s tradiion — but like you said, using tradition to hide sexism (or until relatively recently for Augusta, racism) is unacceptable. Thanks for talking about this!

  4. First things first….wasn’t that one of THE best Masters in years?! From poor Rory going south on Saturday, a f*cking albatross and Bubba’s shot from the fairway on 10 still boggling my mind! How you hook a wedge 40 yards from 155 yards just makes no sense to me. So awessome!

    I think next year she’ll be granted membership. I cannot imagine having a membership at Augusta Freaking National be a work perk!

    Sidenote – I’ve told my girlfriend I want some of my ashes spread on August because that will be the only way I will ever get on that golf course.

  5. Frankly my dear, I don’t care if it IS tradition – it’s insufferable that a CEO, because she is female, was not included. Seriously? I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and there were some horrid, racist “traditions” in the south – so we keep them because they’re traditions? Nope, no, no way, uh-uh. Not buying it.

  6. It’s funny how openly sexist we are; why can’t females play in male soccer? And golf isn’t even separated for it’s physical requirements; it’s just plain sexist. And hey, we females like wearing those little golf pants and small hats. Sometimes, being a man sounds like a relief.

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