Darla Moore, left, in a March 24, 2011 file photo; and former U.S. Secretary… (Associated Press )
In 1991, Amy Alcott's six-iron connected pure and true, sending her tee shot toward the green at Augusta National Golf Club's 16th hole, a 170-yard par three known as "Redbud."
The ball bounced just once on the well-manicured putting surface, then rolled into the cup.
Yet after her round at the home of the Masters golf tournament, Alcott, who was playing as a guest, was told the club wanted no publicity about the event. Members at Augusta prefer what goes on at their ultra-exclusive Georgia club remain behind the hedges that shield their enclave from the outside world.
Alcott was speaking Monday, though, only hours after the club announced for the first time in its 80-year history that it will allow female members.
"It's about time," the Hall of Fame golfer and Santa Monica native said in a telephone interview from New York, where she was playing in a charity golf tournament.
"It's wonderful news, and I'm glad to see they're stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing."
Twenty-two years after admitting its first African American member, the club invited former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore to join. Both accepted their invitations.
"This is a joyous occasion," Augusta Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement. "These women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership."
The club had come under heavy criticism regarding its all-male status over the last decade, particularly after Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations in 2002 began urging the club to begin admitting female members.
But at the time, former club chairman Hootie Johnson responded by saying the club would not admit women "at the point of a bayonet," a comment that sparked a firestorm of debate.
In April, Payne deflected more questions about the issue after Virginia Rometty was elevated to chief executive of IBM, a principal sponsor of the Masters.
The previous four IBM chief executives — all males — had been offered club membership.
On Monday, with the announcement Rice and Moore had accepted their invitations, the tone from Augusta was very different from what it had been a decade before.
"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," Payne said in a statement. Rice and Moore are expected to receive their green jackets when the club opens in the fall.
In a statement, Rice, who served under former PresidentGeorge W. Bushand is now a professor at Stanford's business school, said she looks forward to "this very special opportunity."
"I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf," Rice said. "I also have an immense respect for the Masters tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world."
Moore, the vice president of Rainwater, a private investment company, echoed Rice's elation.
"Augusta National has always captured my imagination, and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April," Moore said in a statement. "I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life."
There are still several all-male clubs, including the Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland, which will host the British Open in 2013.
"I think this will put additional pressure on them," Burk said in a telephone interview.
A decade after her spirited charge to bring change to Augusta, Burk heard the news she had long been waiting for at her home in New Mexico when a reporter called her early Monday morning.
She laughed, then breathlessly spoke into the receiver, "We won."
"I always knew that we would prevail because we were in it for the long haul," Burk said. "We never gave up. We've been working this whole decade. We felt like it was going to happen."
Burk added, "The women's movement in this country has a long history of trying and trying and trying until we finally prevail — and this is one of the finest examples of it."
For Alcott, the day brought back memories of her hole in one at the famed course.
She recalled the members toasting her that night in the club's dining hall, when she stood under a picture of legendary golfer Bobby Jones.
She remembered the actor Clint Eastwood, who was present, serenading her with "Once in Love With Amy."
Alcott calls that memory her "little slice of heaven."
Now, she said, she hopes that many more women can finally build their own memories at Augusta too.