By Laura Pappano
Augusta National’s decision to invite two female members (former Secretary of State Condi Rice and financier Darla Moore) to join reminds us that private golf clubs are not just about golf. And this is where I do some head scratching: Why wouldn’t all clubs want women?
When Virginia Rometty, the new CEO of IBM, was not invited to join August this spring because she was female, despite the club’s tradition of offering membership to the Masters sponsor CEO, it looked juvenile.
If Augusta – and other clubs – serve as a de-facto corporate water cooler, why would you want to deny your members access to IBM’s CEO?
Some have compared the tradition of all-male golf clubs and outings as equivalents to “girl’s night out.” But they’re not.
Golf is a sport that reveals instincts and character. It is a sport in which you inflict penalties on yourself (even if no one else saw the ball move during your practice swing, it’s your job to assess a stroke.) It is a game that invites collaboration and problem solving (how do you read the green? Your ball landed over just left of that bunker, etc…) It elicits congratulations to your opponent even as you compete.
Golf is also slow. It takes time to play, allowing for relationships to develop and conversation to unfold. It is apart from e-mail and (mostly) cell phones. It is time to think and talk and relate.
At a time when all the leaders were men, having a men-only club seemed like a clever maneuver, if you could pull it off (and Hootie Johnson did despite being called out by Martha Burk).
But as more women ascend to prominent leadership roles, it looks counter-productive. If we consider that females now outnumber men on college campuses and in seeking advanced degrees, the future suggests this march will continue.
Augusta National may be a high profile example, but elite mens-only clubs remain spotted around the country excluding as members accomplished and prominent women. Women should cry foul – if the guys don’t cry foolish first.