One Woman’s Take on Augusta National’s Old-Fashioned Rule

Augusta National Golf Club — the lush, storied, elegant home to the Masters Tournament — needs to (quickly) decide how to handle the sticky issue that IBM (NYSE:IBM) CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty is (gasp!) a woman.

IBM is one of the tournament’s three sponsors — along with Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and AT&T (NYSE:T) — and previous Big Blue leaders have been offered membership.

But Augusta National has been closed to the fairer sex since, well, forever (technically since the club’s founding in 1933). In this way, the world’s most famous golf club is little like a clubhouse. With an (immaculately calligraphed) ‘No Girls Allowed!’ sign prominently displayed.

What a first-world problem.

Membership has its privileges, of course, and for these corporate heavy hitters, the most important perk is the ability to host clients at the Masters in a VIP setting near the course’s 10th hole. Bonus? All members get to wear those snazzy green jackets. Non-members are out of luck, sartorially speaking, and require constant accompaniment from a member to even visit the course. Could make for some awkward moments while Ms. Rometty tries to hold court with important visitors.

Some think this practice seems antiquated and exclusionary. And they’re not wrong. It’s 2012, and the notion that a woman can serve as Secretary of State but can’t play a silly round of golf seems absurd.

But others argue that Augusta National is a private club that can make its own rules. They aren’t wrong, either. Women aren’t technically prohibited from being club members; it’s just that no woman has ever been invited. And just because IBM has appointed a woman leader for this first time in its history doesn’t mean Augusta National has to follow suit.

Executives with the club are keeping their lips sealed for now, but it will be interesting to see if they bend their tradition. Even if they make an exception for Ms. Rometty (allowing, say, executive membership for key event sponsors, regardless of gender), it certainly won’t open the floodgates for the women of the world.

And frankly, who cares?

Not only is Ms. Rometty the first woman to lead the venerable tech company, but she has consistently ranked among Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for the past seven years. She serves on the board at Sloan-Kettering. And she’s got a great head of hair. Do you really think she’s losing sleep over potentially missing out on a few pimento-cheese sandwiches?

So avid women golfers can’t enjoy the majesty of Augusta’s course. Yes, that’s a pity. But it is certainly not the worst example of gender discrimination, in my opinion, nor is it worth the energy required to protest. (Although at least any protesters have their feet firmly planted near beautiful scenery).

Woody Allen (or was it Groucho Marx) famously quipped that he would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like (him) for a member. I tend to agree, but from a perspective of righteous indignation, not from self-deprecation. If the club doesn’t want women there, then we don’t want their stinking club. They can keep their tradition if they so choose — no hard feelings.

Most women don’t really love Kelly green anyway.

As of this writing, Beth Gaston Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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