Somewhere, former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines is smiling (or at least wearing a less-prominent scowl). The Augusta National Golf Club's surprise decision to admit two women as members made the front of Tuesday's paper: "Host to Masters Drops a Barrier With Its First 2 Female Members."
As executive editor, Raines caused controversy even among the liberal media in 2003 for his constant front-page crusade against the all-male membership policies of a private entity, The Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters golf tournament. Raines went so far as to spike columns by two of his own writers for taking issue with the paper's embarrassing editorial suggesting Tiger Woods boycott the Masters in the name of solidarity with women.
Golf writer Karen Crouse, the author of Tuesday's front-page piece, who had her own ideological fender-bender on the issue, wrote in typical overheated fashion:
Augusta National Golf Club, the private club that hosts the Masters and has come under attack over the past decade for its all-male membership, added two female members Monday: Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, and Darla Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman.
For years, the 80-year-old club’s restrictive membership policies, which excluded blacks until 1990, cast it as a remnant of the antediluvian South. Whenever its exclusion of women was held up for public scrutiny, in 2002 and again this year, the club held steadfast to its practices with little concern about repercussions from golf’s top players; its network broadcast partner, CBS; the tournament’s sponsors; or the PGA Tour, which prevents courses with discriminatory membership policies from hosting its tournaments.
Augusta National conducts business on its own terms, long responding to questions about its policies by saying that it is a private club and that membership issues are a private matter. It remained consistent Monday, releasing a terse statement, which offered no further explanation, at a somewhat surprising time.
The Times cited the paper's former heroine Martha Burk, who led a failed protest at Augusta National in 2003.
For Martha Burk, who began a campaign in 2002 urging Augusta National to admit women, it was an overdue occasion.
“It’s about 10 years too late for the boys to come into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century,” Burk said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But it’s a milestone for women in business.”
Crouse got in trouble with her editor during The Masters tournament in April with intemperate comments showing her bias on the issue, telling a Sports Illustrated spinoff that she did not want to cover the tournament again until a woman was admitted to the club. Times sports editor Joe Sexton said the comments were "completely inappropriate and she has been spoken to."
Demonstrating its standard overkill on the issue, the Times devoted an editorial Tuesday offering sarcastic golf claps to the club, while likening the plight of women before the move to the internationally celebrated former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi:
What a year this has been for women breaking barriers. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament. Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar let women compete on their Olympic teams for the first time. And now another bastion of male authority and rigorous devotion to antiquated laws has heeded the call of equality.
Excuse our lack of enthusiasm for a decision to do the right thing a few generations too late. It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since the last uproar. Augusta National, which added its first black member in 1990, has missed lots of chances to broaden and diversify its membership. Now, with two women in the club, it has finally reached the point of gender tokenism.