Augusta Chairman Billy Payne meets the press in 2010. (Rob Carr )
Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Billy Payne really didn't surprise anyone Wednesday with his comment on admitting women to membership at the all-male club. His comment was: No comment.
As my Wednesday column observes, Augusta, whose annual Masters Tournament starts Thursday, has a long tradition of discrimination, racial and sexual, and an even longer tradition of silence on membership issues.
At his pre-tournament press conference, Payne was asked repeatedly to comment on the latest iteration of the membership issue, which arises because the new CEO of IBM, a tournament sponsor, is a woman, Virginia Rometty. Since IBM chief executives have been Augusta members since at least the 1980s, it looks as though two Augusta traditions are in conflict.
As expected, Payne didn't take the bait. "As has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership have been and are subject to private deliberations of the members," according to the Associated Press. Pressed on the question, he added: "No. 1, we don't talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don't talk about them when a named candidate is part of the question."
At a fundamental level, of course, Augusta's discriminatory policies aren't Augusta's issue — no one questions that it has a legal right to admit or shun anyone it wants. The issue is one for the major public corporations that aid and abet Augusta's behavior by sponsoring the Masters. This year, that's not only IBM but AT&T and Exxon Mobil, which by their participation are involved in a symbiotic deal with the devil.
Here's a thought experiment for those corporations: Would they be so happy to partner with Augusta if its policy barred not merely women but blacks from membership? It's not such an abstract matter — the club didn't admit its first black member until 1990. Augusta was shamefully late on civil rights, and as more women move into the top echelons of all professions, including corporate management, it risks being unforgivably late again.
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