The hot-shot and the Augusta old boys' club

The first female boss of IBM, Virginia Rometty, is a problem for America's most conservative golfers

At the start of this year, Virginia Rometty made US corporate history when she became the first woman to lead IBM. Whether she can break a separate gender barrier at a temple of American sport is another matter.

Next week, the Augusta National club in Georgia hosts the Masters, the most tradition-encrusted golf tournament on earth. IBM is one of the Masters' main sponsors, and each of its previous chief executives has been a member.

In the case of Ms Rometty however, there's a small problem. In its almost 80-year history, Augusta has never had a female member.

Women may play the hallowed Masters course, they may eat in the club dining room. But no woman has ever been invited to join (for an annual fee rumoured to be around $10,000 [£6,255]) and thus to receive one of the celebrated green jackets awarded to every Masters champion.

From the moment it opened, Augusta has been a golf club with a difference. Back in 1932, its founder Bobby Jones declared that he wanted to create "a golf course and a retreat of such stature, and of such excellence, that men of some means and devoted to the game of golf might find the club worthwhile as an extra luxury". In other words, it would be the last word in exclusivity – and by and large has remained so.

The list of Augusta's 300-odd current members is a secret. But this fortunate band is believed to include titans from the business world like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the two richest men in the US, as well as political grandees including the former Secretary of State George Shultz. As Jones intended, they are male and very wealthy, and also rather old: a list obtained by USA Today newspaper in 2004 revealed an average age of 72.

The club is steeped in the virtues and vices of the American South, of which it is an emblem. Deeply conservative, it is always slow to change its ways, and particularly so when the exhortations to do so come from the very suspect Yankee north.

Only in 1975 did Lee Elder become the first African-American to compete in the Masters (and received hate mail for his pains), and it wasn't until 1990 that Augusta admitted its first black member. Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters champion, has of course rendered moot any lingering complaints about racial barriers at Augusta. The ban on women, however, remains – though not for want of campaigns to overturn it.

The loudest of them, in 2002, was led by Martha Burk, then chair of the National Council of Women's Organisations. It included demands for a player boycott, and drew editorial support from that bastion of East Coast enlightenment, The New York Times.

But the effort came to nothing. It was simply too strident, some said, while others pointed to the fact that as a private club, Augusta could choose its own members. "We have a moral and legal right to organise our club the way we wish," said Hootie Johnson, the then chairman, declaring he would not be bullied "at the point of a bayonet". To underline the point, he even scrapped TV advertising by corporate sponsors of the Masters for a couple of years.

The message from his successor, Billy Payne, the organiser of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has been more polite, but essentially the same. Augusta, he said when he took over six years ago, had "no specific timetable" for admitting women. Ever since, he has maintained that membership issues are private.

But the ascent of Ms Rometty means the controversy has gained a fresh airing. Neither she nor IBM has commented on the matter – her preferred hobby is scuba diving. But it has been suggested she might end the debate now by declaring she has no wish to be a member.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine