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

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