AUGUSTA (Georgia): Augusta National Golf Club, the famed home of the Masters tournament, announced on Monday that it had finally ended its all-male policy and would admit the first women members in its 80-year history.
The decision signals a new era for the club with former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore accepting invitations to join a golfing institution that is revered for its traditions.
Augusta, however, has in recent years come under intense pressure to end its all-male policy, a stance seen as sexist and unacceptable in the 21st century and in an era of burgeoning competition in women's golf.
"This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club," said Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta, in Georgia.
"These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the club opens this fall."
The question of female exclusion had arisen in April each year when the club hosts the Masters, the first golfing "major" tournament of the season.
In 2003 Martha Burk, a leader in the National Council of Women's Organisations, conducted a rally across the street from Augusta, which was founded in 1932 and where the first black member was admitted in 1990.
Hootie Johnson, Augusta's chairman in 2003, had gone so far as to release broadcast sponsors from their advertising commitments when Martha threatened to target them for backing the club's men-only policy.
This year discussion of women members focused on the appointment of Virginia Rometty as chief executive of IBM -- previous bosses of the electronics giant had been members at Augusta.
Payne refused to be drawn into a debate of the issue when it was raised in the days before the Masters, but said that the process for admitting Condoleezza and Darla had been the same as for any other member.
"Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time," Payne said. "The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different.
"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." AFP