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I don't know about you, but I finally stopped pinching myself earlier this week, realizing I was not losing my mind, dreaming or hallucinating. I even checked the calendar and it wasn't April Fools' Day, so it actually happened: Augusta National Golf Club allowed its first female members.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore can now hang out at the Augusta, Ga., golf shrine without having to run the vacuum, wash the dishes or wait tables. They can actually play the golf course now!
Obviously, the consensus question is "What took so long?" There probably are two principal answers to that: co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, and all the other chairmen who ruled the roost before Billy Payne became the club's chairman in 2006.
Augusta National was built in 1933, and the first Masters was played the next year. Forty-one years passed before a black golfer was allowed to play in the Masters: When Lee Elder won the 1974 Pensacola (Fla.) Open, it qualified him to play at Augusta.
Augusta National did everything it could--behind closed doors, of course--to keep black golfers out of the tournament. Roberts was quoted once as saying, "I don't know what we'll do if a colored guy qualified. I don't think folks in Augusta would stand for it."
Same was true for some folks in Louisiana back then. In 1974, I wrote a column in the Shreveport Journal (may it R.I.P.) about how wonderful it was that finally a black golf star was going to play in the Masters. As soon as the paper came out, a woman who worked in another department of the paper walked over to the sports department and said, "Why did you write that?"
And now, 37 years after Elder broke the color barrier at Augusta, women can be members. Of course, Augusta National--not even with Payne as chairman--would tell the rest of us what requirements a woman has to meet. Must she be wealthy, famous, a former secretary of state, first lady or what? We'll probably never know, because Augusta is a private club and it's none of our business, right guys?
Augusta's secrecy reminds me of a sports columnist in Florida--sorry, but I can't remember his name--who wrote about playing the course with three other guys. Those three were having a drink after their round and telling Augusta stories, not knowing that the guest was a sports writer. One was a wealthy businessman who had closed a big deal in Florida and flown his airplane to Augusta to play a round.
There were only two groups on the course when he arrived, and he played alone. Finally, he caught up with the foursome ahead of him on the 16th hole and they invited him to join them for the last three holes. When they reached 18, Roberts was standing behind the green, called the guy over and told him Augusta didn't allow fivesomes and he was suspended from playing for a couple of months.
I have said for years that I can't decide whether the Masters is a tournament I love to hate or hate to love. A few years ago, it was reported that CBS wanted Augusta to alter its tee times to accommodate the television network. To the surprise of no one, Augusta responded with something like "These are our tee times. You can be here or not."
And how about Gary McCord getting banned from the TV coverage back in 1995 because he used some humor instead of sounding as if he were doing the play-by-play at a funeral? "They don't cut the greens here at Augusta; they use bikini wax," McCord said, referring jokingly to how fast the greens were.
Way back in 1966, Jack Whitaker was taken off the air for comments during a playoff at the 1966 Masters when he called the gallery a "mob." Oops, sorry, Augusta National! You would've thought Whitaker had set fire to Butler Cabin, where the Masters winner is given the green jacket.
Which reminds me that those 10 cute little buildings at the club are not houses or cottages; they are cabins. If you don't call them cabins, you're done. Those watching the tournament live and in person are "patrons," not the gallery.
I've often wondered what would happen to a "patron" or even a member who was having lunch there and used the long fork to eat the salad. Or what if he or she slurped the coffee?
Oh, well, I must admit: Now that Augusta has opened the main entrance for women, I feel better about it. And as happens every year about this time, I can't wait till the 2013 Masters. Golf doesn't get any better than Sunday at Augusta National.
Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.8/10/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal.