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Women no longer out of bounds at golf Masters

China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-04-12 08:05

For 80 years, a defiant Augusta National Golf Club had nothing to say about its male-only membership policy.

But on the eve of the 2013 Masters, the club's chairman had just one word to describe the decision in August to finally open its doors to women.

Women no longer out of bounds at golf Masters

Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state and new member of Augusta National Golf Club, looks on during the annual Masters Par 3 Contest in Augusta, Georgia, on Wednesday. Mark Blinch / Reuters

"Awesome," Billy Payne said in a disarming southern-US drawl.

The breathtaking view is the same as it has been for decades, the home of the Masters golf tournament - a bastion of tradition unmoved by outside forces and events.

But this April, change is in the air, mixed with the fragrant smell of blooming azaleas, with former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore becoming the first women to don the famous green jackets.

Despite ending a membership controversy that had reached the White House and became increasingly difficult to simply dismiss as a club matter, Augusta has offered little insight into the timing of its decision and why it took so long.

"It went about the same process and the same amount of time as any other member," Payne told reporters as golfers went through final preparations for Thursday's opening round. "I wouldn't have any comment on that."

As Masters week began, Rice was attracting as much attention as the world's top golfers. Certainly there are good reasons for the gawkers, since there have been fewer women to land an Augusta green jacket than there are men who have landed on the moon.

Glacial pace

Augusta's invitation-only membership has been steeped in secrecy since the club opened in 1932.

The club does not reveal its full list of members, believed to be around 300, although it is known that some of the most powerful men from industry and finance, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are members.

Change commonly occurs at a glacial pace at Augusta.

It was not until 1990 that Augusta National invited its first black member, businessman Ron Townsend.

Before Augusta National's groundbreaking announcement in August, women were allowed to play the course only if invited by a member.

Pushed by the National Council of Women's Organizations to admit women, former Augusta chairman William "Hootie" Johnson dug in his heels, saying the club would not be forced to open its doors "at the point of a bayonet".

Even though the controversy has been largely defused, it is a subject Augusta National and Masters champions past and present continue to tiptoe around.

Tiger Woods, who steered clear of the debate while it raged, would not be dragged into any reflection on the issue, saying only he was happy to welcome Rice, his fellow Stanford University graduate, into the club.

"I think it's fantastic. The club, it was the right timing," said Woods.


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