White House weighs in on Augusta National's membership policy

Sheesh, is no realm free from politics? We were unable to watch the NCAA championship game without hearing how Barack Obama’s bracket stacked up against the average American’s and now we’re unlikely to be able to enjoy the Masters without having to turn our attention to some attendant political controversy. In this case, what that controversy would be was wholly predictable. It has always bothered a particular kind of spoilsport that Augusta National Golf Club — the historic home of the Masters — is an all-male (private) club.

This year, though, the Club’s all-male policy is especially controversial. IBM is one of the tournament’s chief corporate sponsors and Augusta traditionally offers the CEO of IBM a membership. At least, the last three CEOs of the company are reportedly members. Now, though, the CEO of IBM is a woman. Augusta is stuck in the uncomfortable position of extending the invite and overturning its all-male tradition — or of withholding the invite because the IBM CEO is female and overturning its tradition of thanking corporate sponsors with memberships.

Somehow, this particular situation newly entitles the president to give his opinion on Augusta’s membership policy:

President Barack Obama believes women should be allowed to become members of the all-male Augusta National Golf Club, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday, as the four-day Masters tournament got under way.

“His personal opinion is that women should be admitted,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “But it’s obviously up to the club to decide.” …

The White House conveyed Mr. Obama’s position on the Georgia golf club on the eve of its conference on women and the economy and as the president’s re-election campaign is making a push to win over women voters.

Critics quickly responded to the president’s comments. His remarks, they say, were aimed to propagate the meme that Republicans are waging a war on women. (Apparently, Augusta is a Republican?) If that was his aim, he surely failed. His opinions just reminded women who care about these sorts of things of his own propensity to exclude them on the golf course:

Obama played 23 rounds of golf between January and October of 2009 before inviting a single woman to his foursome, the New York Times reported. This was emblematic of broader concerns over the president’s preference for the company and advice of men:

The technical foul over the all-male game has become a nagging concern for a White House that has battled an impression dating to the presidential campaign that Mr. Obama’s closest advisers form a boys’ club and that he is too frequently in the company of only men — not just when playing sports, but also when making big decisions.

“Women are Obama’s base, and they don’t seem to have enough people who look like the base inside of their own inner circle,” former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers told the Times.

At least, I assume that women who care about Augusta’s longstanding policy also care to criticize the presidents’ boys’ club.

Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, is one of those women who is really not happy with Augusta. Bernard, who began an opinion piece for The Washington Post with a sentence I could have written (“My father and brother, two of the most important men in my life, love golf.”), concluded it with something I never would have:

What’s Augusta to do? The club has not confirmed whether or not it plans to invite Ms. Rometty, who is reportedly an occasional golfer. The situation puts the club in a tough position. Rather than not extending an invitation to a woman, it would be not extending a traditional invitation to a sponsoring CEO because she’s a woman. I have a real problem with that. …

It baffles me what the members of this club must tell their daughters. How do they tell their girls they can be anything they want in this world except a member of daddy’s club? This isn’t a matter of a private club making its own rules and being able to do what it chooses because it’s private. It’s a matter of a group of people purposely excluding an entire gender. Legal or not, it’s morally wrong.

This club is stuck in an ugly past in which discrimination was not only normal but acceptable. How many more accomplished, successful women can they allow to be passed up for membership solely because of their gender? As with all things related to golf, this, too, is a matter of character.

As I said, I could identify with her first sentence: My father and brother, too, love golf. In fact, my father, who played professional baseball, urged my brother to quit “the all-American sport” at age 12 so he could focus on golf, “the gentleman’s game.” My brother did focus on golf — and, as a Division I college golfer, won the Byron Nelson award, which is given annually to one or two graduating seniors who exemplify outstanding performance throughout their career in academics and golf. (The deciding committee also considers the nominee’s character and integrity, but I’ll quit bragging.) He opted not to go pro because he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. So, if it’s a contest of whose father and brother love golf more, I’d put mine up against Bernard’s any day.

Frankly, I don’t see how it’s relevant to the question of whether Augusta should admit women. This question, however, is — and I’d like to pose it to both Ms. Bernard and President Obama: Did neither of them read the Berenstain Bears books as kids?

Remember the book in which Brother Bear starts a club and posts a sign outside his fort that says, “No girls allowed”? Sister Bear is crushed and cries to her mother — but Mama Bear doesn’t allow Sister to give herself up to victimitis. Instead, she helps Sister Bear create an even better fort and bakes her chocolate chip cookies. Pretty soon, Brother Bear smells the cookies and wants to join Sister’s club — and learns just what he was missing by excluding her in the first place!

If there’s anything that’s unlikely to make Augusta wish to admit women, it’s for women to whine about their exclusion. Let women start their own all-female club. Let them make it one of the finest golf courses in the world. Even if Augusta never changes its policy, so what? We’ll be sitting in our more comfortable fort, eating chocolate chip cookies anyway …

Update: According to a tweet from Jake Tapper, Mitt Romney thinks women should be admitted, too, so I’ll extend my question to Mr. Romney, as well. I truly do find it more patronizing that people think women are incapable of creating our own Augusta or of living with the “disappointment” of not being admitted to a boys’ club.