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Augusta National chairman Billy Payne doesn’t want to talk about gender issues

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne was more than happy to talk about a number of topics during Wednesday's Masters week press conference.

Rory McIlroy, the long putter debate, course conditions, Ernie Els, growing the game of golf -- they were all open for discussion.

But the second the questions turned to the possibility of the club extending a membership to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, Payne locked up.

"Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of Membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the Members," Payne said, "and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement."

It wouldn't be the only time the chairman was asked about the club's all-male membership policy. More than a third of the questions posed during the press conference pertained to gender issues.

But every time a media member tried to phrase the question differently, even going so far as to ask Payne if allowing a female to join the club "would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club," they were stonewalled.

It shouldn't come as a big surprise that the club doesn't want to talk about the policy. While IBM's last four CEO's were extended memberships to Augusta National, offering one to Rometty isn't something the club has to do publicly or at all.  That's the beauty of being a private club.

However, Payne brought the heat on himself by painting the club as a progressive in his opening statement, when he talked about the way Augusta National was trying to grow the game of golf.

"Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation," he said. "Whether we lead occasionally or follow always, it doesn't matter; it only matters that we try."

By saying those very words, Payne opened himself and the club up to scrutiny on Wednesday. Even Augusta National, the most famous club in the world, can't have it both ways. You can't paint yourself as an accessible and open club and then close up when asked about your all-male membership.

You end up looking like a hypocrite -- which is exactly what Payne and Augusta National looked like on Wednesday.

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