SBD/August 21, 2012/Sports in Society

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  • Augusta National Chair Billy Payne Praised For Decision To Admit Female Members

    Billy Payne's tenure at Augusta National has been marked by subtle changes

    The decision by Augusta National Golf Club to extend membership to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore is drawing a variety of reaction from across the country today. In Augusta, Scott Michaux writes under the header "A Proud Day For Golf, Billy Payne." Augusta National inviting female members "is a symbol of growth, inclusion and equality, and an important one." By "finally doing so, it makes Augusta National, the Masters and the game of golf better than it was on Sunday" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 8/21).

    PRAISE FOR PAYNE: GOLF.com's David Dusek wrote, "I never doubted that Billy Payne wanted to let women become members at Augusta National; he and the club just needed to work out how they could do it without looking like they were being forced to yield to outside pressure." SI's Gary Van Sickle wrote, "I was pretty sure Billy Payne was too smart and too much of a diplomat to let this issue continue to taint the Masters, but I was beginning to wonder what was taking him so long." GOLF.com's Charlie Hanger wrote, "My first thought was, finally. Payne seemed genuinely flustered with the harsh questioning this year, and I wonder if behind closed doors that led him to push for the change" (GOLF.com, 8/20). Golf Channel's Damon Hack said of Payne, "Everything he had been doing had been to open up Augusta National. To me, this is a move that was just one more step in that long run." Golf Channel's Tim Rosaforte: "You think of Billy as a game changer, an innovator, as a visionary and as a leader. The decision that was announced today is all of those things wrapped up in one" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 8/20). Hack added, "Billy Payne is a relatively young man. When he assumed the Chairmanship in 2006, he was the one guy who did not have a tie to Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and the initial founding of the club. Everything he has done as Chairman has been to open the club … made it more open, more accessible. … This to me, the admission of two women, is just the kind of continuation of what’s been his policy as Chairman of Augusta National” (“Morning Drive,” Golf Channel, 8/21). USA Today’s Christine Brennan said Payne is a “much moderate leader of Augusta National than the other men who have come before him” ("NewsHour," PBS, 8/20). ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote it "could easily be surmised that deep down, Payne wanted this all along and was simply waiting for the right time, the right place, the right way." This may "very well be his biggest personal achievement, even if he never acknowledges it as such" (ESPN.com, 8/20).

    RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB: In Columbia, Bob Gillespie writes Payne "no doubt will get much of the praise for the club's action, as he should." Payne is a "savvy, politically aware businessman who oversaw the Atlanta Olympics and six years as Augusta's chairman has introduced all manner of change." He is the "perfect new-age leader to check 'female members' off his to-do list" (Columbia STATE, 8/21). In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes it "isn't history Payne wrote, in fact he seems to be the one who has done the most to try to change it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/21). In Atlanta, Mark Bradley: "Say what you will about Billy Payne, but he is not tin-eared. ... Credit Payne for realizing that there's a world outside the gates of a golf course" (AJC.com, 8/20).

    NO MORE QUESTIONS, PLEASE: In Charlotte, Ron Green Jr. writes Payne is a "smart man who no doubt understood the conundrum of pushing global growth at a club with a restricted membership." With Rice and Moore now "having their own green jackets, Payne and the club can push forward rather than play defense against the perpetual questions" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/21). In Toronto, Dave Perkins writes it is "joyous for him because next April he won’t need to go through the awkward dance with nosy media types at the chairman’s annual Masters week press conference." Payne was "extremely uncomfortable dealing with this kind of question" (TORONTO STAR, 8/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Brian Murphy wrote Payne "deserves an ounce of credit here." He has "made mistakes, surely." His "awkward sparring with the media this past spring over the issue again came off as tone-deaf." But he "changed, and made the move to invite Rice and Moore." He "gets points for that" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/20). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Martin, Dawsey & McKay note "expanding its membership is welcome news for corporate sponsors of the Masters and CBS Corp." N.Y.-based marketing firm Strategic President Peter Stern said, "There is no question that this will help Augusta and its relationship with sponsors, CBS and vendors because its removes the annual questions" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/21).

    ALWAYS A PART OF THE PLAN: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote perhaps the issue, "so trite at this point, simply wore down the 'membership,' or at least Payne, to the point they just threw up their hands and said, 'OK.'" But Payne, who "most saw as more progressive than much of the membership, was clearly trying to guide the club to a path of least resistance and spare what is a wonderful patch of land and tradition from unnecessary attacks" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/20). FOXSPORTS.com's Robert Lusetich writes when membership elected Payne in '06, "it was a clear signal that the young turks had taken over." So Payne "took his time. ... Little by little, Payne brought back the roars to Augusta National and, importantly, he did it with subtleness" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/21). FOXSPORTS.com's Steve Eubanks wrote by "letting the membership process play out the way it always has -- quietly and on the club's private schedule -- Payne successfully moved Augusta National where it needed to be without appearing to cave to outside pressure" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/20). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes Payne "had to have been pushing for this all along" (Bergen RECORD, 8/21). Golf HOFer Greg Norman "called Payne savvy and 'switched on' in terms of awareness that it was time to include women as members" (PALM BEACH POST, 8/21). In Louisville, Tim Sullivan writes by "admitting women -- plural -- Augusta chairman Billy Payne has indicated the club will advance aggressively on the gender front rather than test the waters one testosterone-laden toe at a time" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 8/21).

    WHO GETS THE CREDIT? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay wrote Augusta National "could only blow off common sense for so long." Resistance "was not sustainable" and Payne "appears to realize this." Gay: "One does not call something 'a joyous occasion' if it is not, in fact, a joyous occasion, aka a relief" (WSJ.com, 8/20). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Martin, Dawsey & McKay wrote criticism of its men-only policy "had been mounting on Augusta National since at least 2002." The National Council of Women's Organizations former Chair Martha Burk yesterday in a telephone interview said she felt "personally vindicated" by the news. Burk: "I don't think (Mr. Payne) deserves any credit now. I think he's being dragged at the point of a bayonet" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/21). In DC, Sally Jenkins writes a "lot of people rushed to take credit-by-association." PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and AT&T Chair & CEO Randall Stephenson "both issued applauding statements, even though they were hardly on the front lines when it came to lobbying Augusta to open its doors to female members." Augusta members are "past due in admitting women, but it's far preferable that they did so voluntarily" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/21).

    ON ITS OWN TERMS: SI.com's Michael Rosenberg wrote, "Augusta National is about power, and this was a power move, from start to finish ... from the timing to the women involved" (SI.com, 8/20). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's John Paul Newport wrote the "continued and growing pressure on the club to act is hard to divorce from this decision." Newport: "Timing seemed to be the issue. Politically, it comes as no surprise that Monday's announcement came more or less out of the blue. Undoubtedly the club did not want to be seen as responding to any immediate or particular pressure" (WSJ.com, 8/20). Sports media consultant and former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson said, "Augusta, historically, has operated on its own timetable and most likely felt that the appropriate time to announce it would not be on anybody’s time schedule but their own. The fact that the media might be asking in April was one thing, but my guess is that the admission was separate from the tournament so that it would not appear that they were being pressured by the media to make an announcement" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/21). In Boston, Michael Whitmer writes if any part of yesterday's news "was expected, it's the manner in which it was delivered." The "safe money said that when -- not if -- this day would come, the unveiling would come straight from Augusta National, not some news leak that the club would be forced to react to." If there has "been one constant," it is that Augusta National "plays by its own rules" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/21). GOLFCHANNEL.com's Jason Sobel wrote the fact that a "release was penned on Monday only speaks to the severity of the matter in the eyes of the current membership." It shows a "complicit understanding of a long-time issue and even a certain amount of pride that the right call was enforced, no matter the timing" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 8/20).

    FROM THE EDITORIAL PAGES: An AUGUSTA CHRONICLE editorial states, “Even as big an announcement as it was ... it’s important not to make more of it than it is.” It means that the “existing membership wanted these two exemplary women included in the club.” But it “doesn’t mean the club bowed to any pressure; that was attempted 10 years ago.” The club “simply did what it wanted to do, when it wanted to.” That is the “kind of freedom a private club should have” (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 8/21). A N.Y. TIMES editorial states Augusta National “has decided to stop embarrassing itself and move into the mid-20th century.” Now with two women in the club, it “has finally reached the point of gender tokenism” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/21).

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