After decades of criticism from proponents of gender equality, Augusta National, host of the prestigious annual Masters Tournament
it will admit former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore as its first female members.
"This is a joyous occasion," Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a statement. "These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and are both 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."
The club's change of heart marks the end of a long period of pressure from women's advocacy groups and retrenchment by club officials.
In 2002, Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO
) threw down the gauntlet when she urged Augusta to accept female members. Hootie Johnson, who was chairman of the Georgia club at the time, infamously declared that while Augusta might one day include women, it wouldn't be "at the point of a bayonet."
There were no bayonets, but television sponsorship was lost for two years and the club paid CBS to broadcast the Masters commercial-free for that period.
In April 2012, Payne refused to answer pointed questions about the club's lack of female members during the annual pre-Masters press conference. IBM, one of the premier event's major sponsors, had appointed Virginia Rometty as its CEO. The four previous IBM CEOs had all been admitted as club members. Rometty was not
, sparking widespread outrage and more vocal criticism of what was increasingly seen as a sexist
Augusta, which only admitted its first African American member in 1990, was increasingly seen as a bastion of a bygone era. But with today's announcement, the club has tacitly acknowledged the error of its ways. Corporate sponsors have taken notice.
"We applaud today's historic announcement by Augusta National," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a statement.
Rice and Moore were thrilled by the announcement.
"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.
"Augusta National has always captured my imagination and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world," Moore said. "To be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life."
Rice, 57, served as President George W. Bush's national security adviser and, later, Secretary of State. Her tenure was tainted by her personal approval
of the illegal torture of terrorism suspects, although she has not faced any criminal charges for her actions. She is currently a professor of political economy at Stanford University.
, 58, is vice president of the private equity firm Rainwater, Inc. She is the first woman to appear on the cover of Fortune
magazine and is a prominent philanthropist who donated $25 million to the University of South Carolina, her alma mater, which renamed its business school after her.