SBD/April 5, 2012/Events and Attractions

Billy Payne Refuses To Answer Questions About Membership At Augusta National

Payne says Augusta Nat'l does not talk about private deliberations with the public
Augusta National Chair Billy Payne yesterday held his annual pre-Masters press conference and refused to discuss whether the course will admit a female member. Payne said, “As has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have historically been subject to private deliberations of the members. That statement remains accurate and that remains my statement.” The issue is again a topic of discussion with IBM’s first female CEO, Virginia Rometty. Payne gave two reasons for not commenting on the issue. Payne: “Number one, we don’t talk about our private deliberations. Number two, we especially don’t talk about them when a named candidate is part of the question” (Golf Channel, 4/4). The AP’s Eddie Pells wrote Payne was “jabbed, prodded and poked repeatedly about a topic,” but he “wouldn’t offer anything.” His responses were “in direct contrast to those of his predecessor, Hootie Johnson, who when faced with the issue 10 years ago, famously declared female membership would come on the club’s timetable and ‘not at the point of a bayonet’” (AP, 4/4). GOLFWEEK’s Sean Martin noted 10 of the 22 questions asked in Payne’s press conference “pertained to membership,” and the club “didn’t divulge much in response to other inquiries” (GOLFWEEK.com, 4/4). 

HISTORY & TRADITION: In L.A., Michael Hiltzik noted IBM “has a very close relationship with Augusta and the Masters.” It is a “leading sponsor of the tournament telecast and provides the Masters with computing services.” Its logo is “plastered all over the tournament's website.” Activist Martha Burk and others have “already questioned whether IBM will stand silently by and wait for Rometty to ask for or be offered membership, whether it will decide to press the issue with Augusta, and what it will do, if anything, if the situation becomes a public embarrassment.” IBM “hasn't spoken on the issue, and no one even knows whether Rometty wants to be a member.” But Hiltzik wrote “all that is immaterial: Augusta has maintained its indefensible men-only stance long past the point at which it should have joined the modern world” (L.A. TIMES, 4/4). In San Diego, Tim Sullivan wrote Rometty’s promotion at IBM is “forcing an issue Augusta National cannot easily avoid.” Sullivan: “If Billy Payne is as smart as I think he is, he would have been ahead of this curve months ago” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/2).

MAKING THE CASE FOR INCLUSION: In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan wrote by extending an invitation to Rometty, Augusta would “make its own tentative step toward gender equity, its own gradual shift away from the decades-old policy that has become too much a part of its public persona, an albatross that has long since crossed the line from legally founded policy for a private institution to mean-spirited pigheadedness from the old boys network” (Bergen RECORD, 4/1). ESPNW’s Jane McManus wrote The Masters “should cut its losses and welcome women like Rometty, before women decide a backwards Augusta National just isn't worth their time, despite the heartrendingly magnificent magnolias” (ESPNW.com, 3/30). In Orlando, George Diaz wrote, “I don't see how bringing in a person with Rometty's credentials is going to do anything but upgrade the brand” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 4/2). GOLF WORLD MONDAY’s Ron Sirak wrote, “It might not happen this year, but with so many corporations now run by women, it’s inevitable a green jacket will soon be matched with a skirt” (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 4/2 issue).

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In GOLF.com's weekly roundtable discussion, SI Group Managing Editor Jim Herre said, “There is going to be a tipping point in this controversy -- there always is. Will it be Rometty? Probably not because to most folks she is just a faceless corporate executive, and one who is probably horrified that this is even an issue. Some day, though, the exclusion of women is going to blow up on ANGC. Bet on it.” GOLF.com’s Cameron Morfit said, “Billy Payne is the most forward-thinking chairman they've had at the National since I've covered the Masters. If a woman is ever going to be invited to join the club, I'd guess it's going to happen under his watch” (GOLF.com, 4/1). In N.Y., Karen Crouse writes it is “not as if the club is incapable of taking swift action when the situation dictates it.” A restroom “can be repaired in a day, but a club founded in 1933 on the bedrock of segregation is obviously not so easily rebuilt -- or even touched” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/5). Krouse notes several players in this year’s field were approached and “asked their opinion of Augusta National’s not yet extending membership” to Rometty. Crouse found that “nobody would talk on the record” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/5).
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