Condoleezza Rice Breaches Augusta National’s Men Only Membership Rule

As the nation celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX this summer, the previously all-male Augusta National Golf Club invited the first two women to join its ranks.  The invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — whose handicap is reported to be between 13 and 14 — and South Carolina financier Darla Moore came at a time when Augusta National was under considerable pressure to allow women members.  Augusta National’s chairman, Billy Payne, termed the decision “a significant and positive time in our Club’s history.”

Not surprisingly, opinion on the invitations differs.  Writing in Time, Sean Gregory says that “”If you want to give Augusta some leeway (in terms of Title IX), is it maybe 30 years too late?  Back then, Title IX had been on the books for ten years, Billie Jean King had beaten Bobby Riggs, and women were making progress on both ball fields and at the workplace.  Yes, it’s late, but at least it has happened.  Augusta National finally has female members.”  Curiously, all the discrimination hasn’t stopped women from golfing.  There are more than 26,000,000 golfers in the United States; nearly 25 percent are women.  To this day, 24 golf courses in the United States don’t allow women members; of those; four are located in metropolitan Chicago.

Lauren Stiller Rilkeen, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says  that  “The controversy surrounding the club’s long-standing refusal to admit women wasn’t about golf in general or Augusta in particular.  It was about access.  Significant business decisions are more often made by men, and the proof is in the data — which has barely moved in years.  Approximately 16 percent of corporate board seats and 15 percent of the highest-ranking executives are female, and women continue to earn less than their male peers.  People (of either gender) tend to give jobs, deals and promotions to those they know and trust — and that trust is built through connections made in clubs, at dinners, and during other social events.  When women are denied admittance to places where powerful men gather, they are therefore also denied networking opportunities.”

Some believe that threatened financial pressure caused Augusta National to invite Rice and Moore to join because some sponsors reportedly threatened to withdraw their support.  As long ago as 2003, women’s rights activist Martha Burk tried to talk corporate leaders into withdrawing their financial support for Augusta National and the Masters.  “My first reaction was, we won — and we did,” Burk said regarding Rice’s and Moore’s invitations.  “By we, I mean the women’s movement and women in the United States, particularly those in business.”

And what about women being allowed into athletics in general?  Despite the significant increase, the record of Title IX is still mixed.  On the plus side, in the four decades since Title IX was enacted, more than six times as many women compete in college sports as did in 1972.    In 1972, for example, approximately 32,000 women competed in collegiate athletics.   Just two percent of university budgets funded women’s sports; athletic scholarships for women were virtually non-existent.   Today, nearly 200,000 women participate in college sports; 48 percent have scholarships at NCAA Division I schools.  The bad news is that those numbers don’t correlate with the fact that nearly 60 percent of college students are women.  Unfortunately, access to competitive women’s sports is still unequal.  Women athletes have fewer opportunities to participate or benefit from athletic scholarships than men.  Low-income, minority and immigrant women are less likely to play sports than middle-income white women.