The Jerusalem Post
Women’s tournament helps Augusta erase long-time discrimination stain
With the successful staging of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday, the home of the Masters removed a little more of the stain left by decades of gender discrimination.
But more polish will be needed if one of the world’s most exclusive clubs hopes to clean the slate entirely.
“You are now part of history of Augusta National along with all the great Masters champions who have been right here in this Butler Cabin,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley as he presented the winner’s trophy to Jennifer Kupcho.
The fact is, however, that women have long been a part of the history of Augusta National, albeit the dark chapter of exclusion.
Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and opened for play in 1933, Augusta National was a private sanctuary for some of the world’s most powerful white men and for decades immune to outside influences and pressures.
Ron Townsend became the first African-American member in 1990, but it would be another two decades before women were admitted with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore allowed through the doors in 2012.
While the pace remains glacial, change has nonetheless crept into the Augusta DNA.
Club membership is top secret, but it is believed that four to six of the 300 or so members are women.
Augusta National also hosts the hugely popular Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for both boys and girls and has now put its name and branding muscle to a women’s tournament.
The images of women competing at a club where they had previously been denied entry was a powerful one.
Some, like activist Martha Burk, who in 2003 led a protest against Augusta National’s men only policy, remain skeptical. She described the event as a “baby step” and “tokenism.”
Certainly it was an emotional day for golfing greats Nancy Lopez, Pak Se-ri, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam, who took part in a ceremonial tee shot then watched as 30 young women seized an opportunity that had never been open to them.
“When we were talking I was tearing up,” said Lopez. “I was trying to hold back tears because there’s so much pride involved in this.
“It was just a tremendous feeling to be there and represent amateur golf, professional golf and what golf stands for here at Augusta National.”
Without the Augusta National name attached to it, a tournament of this type would have been one watched by no more than a handful of family and friends.
Instead women’s amateur golf on Saturday found itself in the sporting spotlight.
While Augusta has put its name to the tournament, only one round was played at the iconic course and the question remains as to what happens next for women’s golf and Augusta National.
“This is an historic moment, and hopefully they will continue to carry the torch, and who knows what opportunities will come 10, 15 years from now,” said Sorenstam. “This is just the beginning.
“I’ve never seen so much exposure for a tournament, and to see these girls come up here and step it up and have so much fun and enjoy it, I mean, this is a dream come true.”