Augusta National Golf Club has female members for the first time in its 80-year history.
This prestigious club, which serves as the home of the Masters Golf Tournament, has experienced increased criticism over the last decade because of its all-male membership, invited former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first women to wear green jackets when the club opens for a new season in October.
Both women accepted the invitation.
"This is a joyous occasion," Billy Payne, Augusta National chairman, said.
In all likelihood, the move will end a debate that intensified in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations asked the club to allow women into its membership. Former club chairman Hootie Johnson stood firm, even at the expense of losing Masters' television sponsors for two years, when he said Augusta National might one day have a woman in a green jacket, "but not at the point of a bayonet."
The comment became either a slogan of the club's resolve not to succumb to public pressure or a sign of its sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting the statement.
"Oh my God. We won," Burk said. "It's about 10 years too late for the boys to come into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century. But it's a milestone for women in business."
Payne, who became chairman in 2006 when Johnson retired, said consideration for new members is private and deliberate, and that Rice and Moore were treated the same as other new members.
Even so, he took the unusual step of announcing two of the newest 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."
Augusta National opened in December 1932 and did not have a black member until 1990. Today, the club boasts a total of 300 members, and even though it had no female members until now, women were allowed to play the golf course as guests, including on the Sunday prior to the beginning of Masters' week in April.