The winds of change

Augusta National has announced that the club has invited women to become members for the first time in its 80-year history. Reactions have fallen into three distinct camps:
1. Hooray. This is an important step in gender equality.
2. It’s about time. No praise is due the club for taking a step that was long overdue.
3. Augusta is a private club — why knuckle under to outside pressure? If they wanted to be all-male, they should have remained all-male.
Let’s examine these reactions one at a time.
1. Hooray. Like it or not, Augusta National Golf Club is the most scrutinized and influential private institution in golf. When Augusta sneezes, the golf world gets a cold. When rules or customs change at Augusta, the ripple effect is enormous. This is a positive change. Augusta National resisted being told what to do for decades, but it eventually added black members beginning in 1990; that is no longer an issue. After adding women members in 2012, that will also no longer be an issue. This powerful cultural force can no longer be cited as an example of, or an excuse for, exclusion.
2. It’s about time. Yes, it is, but every progressive change in world history has come about later than it should have. Some have suggested the admissions of Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore doesn’t really change anything, because they are rich and well-connected conservatives. Others have insisted that Rice and Moore should have turned down the invitations. Injecting one’s personal politics into the dealings between a private club and private citizens is a fool’s errand. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton recently appointed the first female African-American justice, Wilhelmina Wright, to the Minnesota Supreme Court. It was past time for such an appointment; should Dayton have been rebuked for doing it too late, and should Wright have turned it down to teach everyone a lesson?
3. Why cave to pressure? Here’s a guess that Augusta National is actually doing something it wants to do, rather than something it is forced to do. Sure, there may be members there who opposed opening the club to women, but they are becoming fewer and less vocal every year. The world is changing; club president Billy Payne represents a new generation of more contemporary thought in the business community. If anything, Martha Burk’s protests at Augusta National a decade ago might have slowed down a process that was already under way.
None of this changes the inherent right of a private club — male or female — to hold whatever membership policies it chooses. Nor does this change the overall characteristic of exclusive private golf clubs: they will still cater primarily to the rich and the powerful. What has changed is that Augusta National decided it was no longer in its interest to be one of the dwindling number of all-male golf clubs.

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