By USA TODAY staff reports
After three quarters of a century, women will be included on the membership rolls of Augusta National Golf Club, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world and the host of the Masters.
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced Monday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore will be the first female members of the club.
The news was first reported by the Associated Press.
"This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club," Payne said in a statement. "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.
"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."
Rice, 57, was the national security adviser under former President George W. Bush and became secretary of state in his second term. The first black woman to be a Stanford provost in 1993, she now is a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.
"I am delighted and honored to be a member of Augusta National Golf Club," she said. "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.
"I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. I also have 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."
Moore, 58, is vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company, and founder and chair of the Palmetto Institute, a nonprofit think tank aimed at bolstering per capita income in South Carolina. She also is the founder and chair of The Charleston Parks Conservancy, a foundation focused on enhancing the parks and public spaces of Charleston, S.C.
The business school at the University of South Carolina is named in honor of Moore.
"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.
"Above all, Augusta National and the Masters Tournaments have always stood for excellence, and that is what is so important to me."
Augusta National, which opened in December 1932 and did not have a black member until 1990, is believed to have about 300 members. While the club until now had no female members, women were allowed to play the golf course as guests, including on the Sunday before the Masters week began in April.
Monday's announcement marked a significant departure for Augusta National, which had always declined comment about membership issues. Most recently in April, when Payne was questioned at length about the lack of female members in his annual news conference the day before the Masters.
The most recent debate was sparked because one of the Masters' sponsors, IBM, had recently promoted Virginia "Ginni" Rometty as its first female CEO, and Augusta National traditionally had offered memberships to the CEO of IBM.
Payne deflected the questions with the statement, "Once again, that deals with a membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it."
Monday's announcement also comes 10 years after activist Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations sent a letter to Hootie Johnson, Payne's predecessor as chairman, about admission of female members.
Johnson responded that Augusta would not be forced to change its policies "at the point of a bayonet."
Johnson pulled television advertising for the broadcast to spare Masters sponsors unwanted attention.
In 2003, Burk staged protests outside the grounds that mostly fizzled.