Why today is a momentous day
Augusta National has women members. Not just one, but two. Only a few hours have passed since the news broke, and it's already been met with celebration, mockery and plenty of shrugged shoulders. "About time," many have remarked on Twitter. "So what? It's a private club," argue others. I'm here to say that Augusta's admittance of Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore is a significant breakthrough, not just to women golfers, but to the game of golf and sports in general. This will go down as the day when the Berlin Wall of discrimination finally fell in American golf.
Those who read GolfDigest.com know that I've been a frequent critic of Augusta's membership policies and especially the PGA Tour's association with a club that practices such bigoted rules. That has always been the rub. Private clubs are private clubs, and if a group of people wants to form a club that only allows membership to belly-dancing hyenas, that's their prerogative. The problem with Augusta was always its place in the spotlight as the home of the biggest tournament in golf. It may be private on paper, but it's the most-watched golf facility in the country. It's golf's face to the world. And up until today, it didn't extend memberships to certain people simply because of their anatomy.
Related: Golf Digest's 2011 interview with Rice
Like most other women golfers I know, it pained me that this was the image golf broadcasted to the world. How would we ever encourage more young women to pick up the game when this is what they saw on TV? How would golf ever be recognized as a sport when it acted more like an all-male cigar club? It was embarrassing, but the powers that be kept letting Augusta be Augusta without repercussion. After all, the Masters is an invitational, and not an official PGA Tour event. Augusta sets its own rules. As if a 13-year-old girl watching with her dad cares. She's watching golf, and learning that it discriminates against her.
The fact that Augusta owes nothing to anybody is precisely what makes today's announcement such a huge moment. Clearly, financial and political pressures have never bothered the green jackets. If anything, it's only spurred them to stick to their "traditions" even more. But they knew this had to be done if the game was to thrive. The desire to do the right thing for the image of golf finally superseded the need to have the last word.
Related: Tracking reaction to Augusta National's decision
Would it be great if Augusta had 150 women members already? Of course. Would it be nice if this had happened 20 years ago, when they finally admitted their first African-American member? Absolutely. It would also be great if Butler National and Pine Valley and all the other clubs out there that still shun women would enter the 21st century. But they have to start somewhere, and we have to look at the symbolic impact of this move. This is Augusta National, the most public private club in the world. In the eyes of equality, it just turned from a black sheep to a golden egg. That 13-year-old girl watching the Masters might finally feel like it would be cool to become a golfer.