Rude: Augusta's message contradicts itself

Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, addresses the media.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Masters chairman Billy Payne’s annual news conference prompted two primary observations:

One, an awkward, uncomfortable feeling permeated the room during the 10 times he fielded and stonewalled questions relating to the Augusta National Golf Club’s lack of female members.

Two, there was a striking disconnect between that exclusionary issue and Payne’s speaking at length about the club’s progressive mission to grow golf.

The contradictory message seemed to be: Grow the game but remain the same.

The topic of no female members is hot again because Virginia Rometty is the new chief executive officer of IBM and at least four past CEOs of that company have been Augusta members. Payne repeatedly deflected inquiries by saying the club doesn’t talk about its “private deliberations” and membership issues.

On one hand, Augusta National is a private club and legally can admit whomever it wants. On the other, it is an influential international golf leader that is intent on spreading golf to all corners and prides itself in being evolved.

Law and philosophy butt heads here.

You might say the all-male membership runs counterintuitive to its goal and represents a grass ceiling for women.

The club runs a tournament, the Masters, that makes millions off the public - women and men alike. This week it will be seen in 200 countries, in effect, as Payne said, “promoting the great game of golf to hundreds of millions of fans.”

Frankly, I’m surprised the National isn’t out front on fostering inclusion and serving as a shining symbol. That feeling merely grew when Payne, the chairman of six years, talked enthusiastically for several minutes about ramping up golf, about “our obsession to do better every year.”

Here are some interesting snippets from his address:

• “Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation. Whether we lead occasionally or follow always, it doesn’t matter; it only matters that we try.”

• “We do our best to meet and hopefully surpass the expectations of all of our constituents. Just being good is not good enough.”

• “(We are) determining what more we can do, what ideas might potentially attract kids and other groups of potential golfers to the game.”

You read all that and wonder why Augusta National doesn’t already have a dozen female members. You wonder if he at least doesn’t have a movement afoot, with IBM’s Rometty or whomever. You figure that a female member here seems inevitable.

He hardly sounded like someone who runs an all-male club. That is, until questions regarding female membership were asked. Then, his whole countenance changed. He appeared tight-lipped and tense at times. He glared some, saying at one point, “Thank you for your question, sir.”

Payne had numerous chances to expound on the value of female inclusion but passed, sticking to a rote answer. Now he has a chance to read those wise pearls in his interview transcript and act accordingly, matching actions with words.

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