Augusta chief tees up ‘yes’ vote for women

Condoleezza Rice (pictured) and businesswoman Darla Moore were granted membership. Picture: Getty
Condoleezza Rice (pictured) and businesswoman Darla Moore were granted membership. Picture: Getty
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AT least one “yes” has been guaranteed when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews vote in September on a proposal to admit women members for the first time in its 260-year history.

It will come from Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, a member of the R&A, who has no regrets whatsoever about the Georgia club bringing down its men-only barriers.

Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, and businesswoman Darla Moore were granted membership around 18 months ago and are on duty among the Green Jacket-wearing officials for a second Masters this week.

Asked to provide an insight as to the benefit and enhancement Augusta National has had on the back of that move, Payne said: “We readily and joyously welcomed our lady members when that happened a couple years ago and it remains a very good decision on our part. We are so delighted, and I know I speak for everyone, that they are members.”

Now Payne is set to play his part in getting the same scenario to unfold at the R&A when its 2,500-strong male membership go to the ballot box on 18 September – the same day as the referendum on Scottish independence. “Well, I’m proud to be a member of the R&A and I bet you can guess how I’m going to vote,” he replied on being asked if allowing women to become members there, too, would send out a good message.

“Other than that, I would respect their process, their requirement to conduct a vote. The process will culminate in a decision and, as I’ve said, I know where one vote is going to be cast,” he added, smiling.

Payne also revealed that no plans had been made as yet to replace the club’s infamous Eisenhower Tree. It was removed from its location on the left side of the 17th fairway after being badly damaged in an ice storm earlier in the year and, though it had been rumoured that a replacement had been found, there’s not even a scar on the ground this week to suggest anything had ever been there.

“Much more than simply a strategic factor and playing of this hole during the Masters, the Eisenhower Tree represented one our membership’s most important links to president Eisenhower,” said Payne.

“We do not yet have a definitive plan as to what, if anything, we will do to the 17th hole beyond this year’s tournament. We are closely examining play and scoring on the hole this week, and will make a decision after careful observation and consideration.”

Consideration could also be given in the future to open up Augusta’s new “Drive, Chip and Putt” junior event to players from outside America.

The inaugural finals took place here on Sunday, and the event is being expanded next year to 250 qualifying venues in the US, allowing 50,000 kids to enter.