By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - The home of the Masters now has green jackets for women.
In a historic change at one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs, Augusta National invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.
"This is a joyous occasion," chairman Billy Payne said Monday.
For some, it was a long time coming.
Martha Burk and her women's advocacy group first challenged the club 10 years ago over its all-male membership. The debate returned this year when IBM, one of the top corporate sponsors of the Masters, appointed Virginia Rometty as its chief executive. The previous four CEOs of Big Blue had all been Augusta National members.
The battle ended in typical style for Augusta National, with an understated announcement that left even Burk stunned.
"Oh my God. We won," she blurted out when contacted by The Associated Press.
Burk was not the first advocate to draw attention to women being left out, but it was an exchange with former chairman Hootie Johnson in 2002 that ignited the issue. Feeling as though the Augusta National was being bullied, Johnson stood his ground, even at the cost of cutting loose television sponsors for two years, when he famously said the club might one day ask a woman to join, "but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet."
The comment became either a slogan of the club's resolve not to yield to public pressure or a sign of sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting it.
Johnson, who retired as chairman in 2006, said Monday in a statement to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., "This is wonderful news for Augusta National Golf Club and I could not be more pleased. Darla Moore is my good friend, and I know she and Condoleezza Rice will enjoy the Club as much as I have."
Johnson and Moore have roots in South Carolina and banking, and they worked together on a $300 million capital campaign for the University of South Carolina. Rice recently was appointed to an influential U.S. Golf Association committee that nominates members to the executive board.
Payne, who took over as chairman in 2006 when Johnson retired, said consideration for new members is deliberate and private, and that Rice and Moore were not treated differently from other new members. Even so, he took the rare step of announcing two of the latest members to join because of the historical significance.
"These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership," Payne said in a statement. "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."
Tiger Woods, who knows Rice through a mutual connection to Stanford, applauded the move.
"I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf," Woods said. "The Club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice."
Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and Augusta member, extended his welcome to the two women.
"Everyone at Augusta National shares a similar passion for the game of golf, and I know they will be great additions to the club," Nicklaus said.
A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago. That would be four years after the 2003 Masters, when Burk's protest in a grass lot down the street from the club attracted only about 30 supporters, and one year after Payne became chairman. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the club keeps membership issues private, said Payne and Johnson agreed on the timing of a female member.
The person said prospective members often are not aware they are being considered. The club does not say how much it costs to join or provide figures on annual dues.
Augusta National is closed from the middle of May until the middle of October.
"It's very exciting news, obviously," said Allison Greene, who formed a group in 2003 called Women Against Martha Burk. "Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are outstanding and incredible role models for the community, and anything that puts women like that out there is always a good thing. Second of all, the fact that their membership came by the hand of Augusta National because they wanted to do it, not because they were forced to do it, is a good thing. I don't know any woman who would want to be a member of any kind of club because they were forced into membership."
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