Augusta admits first female members

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left) and South Carolina financier Darla Moore

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left) and South Carolina financier Darla Moore

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Augusta National Golf Club has announced it is admitting its first two women members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne confirmed the news, ending 80 years as a male-only club.

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club. We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different," said Payne.

“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall. This is a significant and positive time in our Club’s history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”

Moore, 58, is the vice president at Rainwater, Inc. and is the founder of the Palmetto Institute, a nonprofit organized to bolster per capita income in South Carolina. The University of South Carolina's business school is named after her. Moore was the first woman to be profiled on Fortune magazine and has been named to the "Top 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business."

Moore graduated from South Carolina, later garnering her MBA from George Washington University.

Moore first rose to prominence in the 1980s with Chemical Bank, where she became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry.

"Augusta National has always captured my imagination, and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April," Moore said. "I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life.

Rice was President George W. Bush's Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009, serving as national security adviser during his first term. Rice is currently a professor of political economy at Stanford, while also recently being appointed to the USGA's nominating committee. She was named the first black provost at Stanford in 1993.

"I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity," Rice said in a statement released by the club. "I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world."

Tiger Woods, who knows Rice through a mutual connection to Stanford, applauded the move.

"I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf," Woods said. "The Club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice."

Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and Augusta member, extended his welcome to the two women.

"Everyone at Augusta National shares a similar passion for the game of golf, and I know they will be great additions to the club," Nicklaus said.

The move likely ends a debate that intensified in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations urged the club to include women among its members. Former club chairman Hootie Johnson stood his ground, even at the cost of losing Masters television sponsors for two years, when he famously said Augusta National might one day have a woman in a green jacket, "but not at the point of a bayonet."

The comment took on a life of its own, becoming either a slogan of the club's resolve not to give in to public pressure or a sign of its sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting it.

"Oh my God. We won," Burk said. "It's about 10 years too late for the boys to come into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century. But it's a milestone for women in business."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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