Billy Payne looked uncomfortable and upset.
On the eve of April's Masters, the Chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club addressed the media, as is custom. He used it to highlight the organization's continued efforts to grow the game – everything from outreach programs and junior patron admission policies to a hot-selling video game.
"Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation," Payne said.
Soon, though, Payne was hit with the recurring hypocrisy of Augusta National, it's longstanding tradition of extending invitations to men only.
"Mr. Chairman," Payne was asked, "I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don't you think it 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?"
Payne wasn't pleased.
"Once again, that deals with a membership issue," he said tersely, "and I'm not going to answer it."
Monday he finally did answer, and while Augusta National's decision to admit two female members to its ranks is certainly historic, it does little to nothing for equality or even accessibility. All it does is end the great hypocrisy of an organization that can now move on without an endless chorus of criticism.
This really isn't some monumental day in the women's movement. It isn't some big victory for the pressures brought by public sentiment or even the forces of political correctness.
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 as issues that will dramatically affect life in America, this one ranks about dead last.
Admitting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina business executive Darla Moore doesn't change the club dramatically. It will remain a playground of the rich, powerful and connected. There are just now two rich, powerful and connected women involved.
Augusta National simply did what was easiest and best for it to move forward, to shed a painful line of questioning and entering the 21st century [or 20th century] on its own terms.
As a private club, Augusta National always enjoyed the right to do as it wished. Payne and his predecessors, most famously Hootie Johnson, were always correct in asserting that right.
Still, 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.
"This is a joyous occasion," Payne said in a statement Monday. "These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.
"This is a significant and positive time in our Club's history."
That's a far cry from the pained look on the chairman's face in April, as he tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense of a club that was bragging about making the game more inclusive while also refusing to allow half the population to join its prestigious ranks.
No one who knows Billy Payne has ever said he is some old caveman. He seemingly knew the critics were right. The man was trying to help golf. He never did explain the disconnect between the positions that day. His lack of an answer practically spoke to his agreement.
He tried to dodge each question, going back to the "membership issue," refusing to say how he'd explain it to his granddaughters or offer advice on how reporters should explain it to theirs.
It was tense. It was clear Payne just wanted it to end. And so it finally did. Five years after Rice and Moore (and perhaps others) were broached as possible members according to the Associated Press, the dam finally broke.
So Augusta doesn't have to deal with that criticism any longer. And young girls across the world can understand that if they, too, become titans of industry or politics, have the proper social connections and get lucky, they can one day join the club.
Other than that, nothing changes. Maybe the membership meetings are a bit prettier, but it's not like women didn't play there as guests before.
The place is still elitist. And that's its right. It can be as elitist as it wants.
At least now Augusta has this weight off its shoulders. Who knows if the membership really thinks they made the proper move. They certainly made the easy one.
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