Pressure builds for Augusta golf club to bend ban on women

Fri Apr 6, 2012 11:30pm EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga (Reuters) - Political pressure mounted on Friday for Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters tournament, to bend its ban on women members to allow the female chief executive of tournament sponsor IBM to join the exclusive club.

President Barack Obama and his likely Republican challenger in the race for the White House, Mitt Romney, both said on Thursday the conservative, all-male club should admit women.

On Friday, former presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain joined the chorus, posting on Twitter: "Don't you think it's time Augusta National joined the 21st century - or the 20th - and allowed women members?"

The controversy concerns Virginia Rometty, the 54-year-old former IBM global sales chief tapped in October to head IBM, which is a leading sponsor of the glamorous tournament.

Traditionally, the CEO of a major corporate sponsor is granted club membership and given one of Augusta's famous green jackets, which go to the winner of one of the world's most celebrated sporting events. Four previous male IBM chief executives have been granted membership to Augusta.

At a pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday, Augusta Chairman Billy Payne repeatedly refused to comment on whether Rometty would be offered membership.

"We don't talk about our private deliberations," Payne said in response to a question. "We especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question."

The club has stubbornly adhered to the all-male membership rule, even when it came under intense scrutiny over the issue a decade ago.

In 2002, a heated war of words erupted between Augusta's then-chairman William "Hootie" Johnson and Martha Burk, the former chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations.   Continued...

A spectator wears colorful footwear while watching a practice round for the 2006 Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 3, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Blake