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Presidential Candidates In Rare Agreement On Augusta National Membership Rules

It’s a Presidential election year, The Master’s Tournament started yesterday,  women’s issues have been playing a prominent role in the public debate, and the Augusta National Golf Club is seeing another round of controversy about its policy that excludes women from becoming members. So, it was probably inevitable that we’d see the candidates for President chiming in on the question. What is surprising is that they all seem to be agreeing with each other that the golf club should consider changing its policy and extended a membership offer to a woman.

It started early yesterday when the White House and the Romney campaign both took the same position on the issue:

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Mr. Obama told him this week that he believed that women should be members of the club, which holds the tournament.

But Mr. Carney added, “It is obviously up to the club to decide.” He did not say whether the president would refuse to play at an all-male golf club.

In a rare act of agreement, Mr. Romney expressed the same sentiment on Thursday afternoon. After finishing an energy-themed event in Northeastern Pennsylvania at a company that hauls water and drilling fluid, Mr. Romney was asked on the rope line if he felt women should be allowed at Augusta.

“Well of course. I’m not a member of Augusta. I don’t know that I would qualify, my golf game is not that good,” Mr. Romney said. “But certainly if I were a member and if I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen, but of course I’d have women in Augusta, sure.”

Ordinarily, you’d think that a statement from Mitt Romney where he completely would lead his opponents to denounce him as a RINO and give them yet another reason to tell conservatives that he’s not the right person to lead their party. You might think that, but you’d be wrong, because Rick Santorum said exactly the same thing:

Rick Santorum went to the tee Thursday evening, weighing in on a golf controversy that earlier attracted the attention of the White House and other GOP presidential hopefuls.

The Augusta National Golf Club’s tradition of admitting only male members has been highlighted by speculation around how the club will handle Virginia Rometty, the new CEO of IBM, a major Masters Tournament sponsor. The club hosts the tournament and typically offers the iconic green jacket to the officers of the club’s major sponsors.

“I encourage Augusta to accept women members, but I recognize their right as a private organization to decide for themselves,” he said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

The club, which opened in 1933, allows women to play as guests but not as members.

And Newt Gingrich wasn’t far behind:

Yet another politician jumped into the Augusta National membership controversy, as Callista Gingrich said she’d like to join the all-male club and her husband seconded the proposal.

“I’m a golfer and I’d love to belong to Augusta,” Callista Gingrich tweeted this afternoon. Newt Gingrich, whose presidential campaign is on the rocks, added “I think callista would be a great memer [of] Augusta — maybe she would let me come play.”

With the Virginia Rometty issue staring them in the face, it’s inevitable that Augusta National’s policy was going to become a public issue again in a way that it hasn’t for at least a decade. Add the Presidential campaign into the mix, and I suppose it was inevitable that the candidates would be asked to chime in. I’m also not entirely surprised that they’re in relative agreement here. Nobody, not even the President, is suggesting that the club be forced to admit women, but it’s relatively easy for politicians to make a statement like this and pretty much politically stupid to take any other position.

As for Augusta National itself, perhaps they’ll choose to admit Rometty, perhaps they won’t. She hasn’t said anything publicly about the matter and isn’t likely to either, and IBM is highly unlikely to end its decades-long sponsorship of the PGA’s most prestigious tournament over this. By the time the weekend is over, the public will leave the grounds of the club for another year, and everyone will forget about this issue. Which is probably how it should be, because what these guys decide to do isn’t really anybody’s business but their own.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Not to make a mountain out of a molehill, and at the risk of an early “get off my lawn” moment for myself, but when the membership policies of a private golf club — a private golf club — become fodder for the national media and for the chattering classes the inescapable conclusion is that we’ve really slipped as a country. Seriously, if the U.S. were a stock I might be thinking about leveraging a put option against it.

    We have a debt to GDP ratio of 100%. We have a trillion-plus dollar budget deficit. Unemployment and underemployment are rampant. The housing market is a flaming disaster of a train wreck. Iran is a smoldering powder keg. Social Security and Medicare are heading for literal insolvency. Europe is disintegrating before our eyes. But, hey, President Obama, Mitt Romney, should Augusta National admit female members? Yes, indeed, Rosanna Danna, they should. OK, then, back over to you, Katie von Spacey.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 11

  2. Franklin says:

    I wonder if the Republican candidates would have said the same thing if there wasn’t the recent stories about how they are losing the female vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. Franklin says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: I’m just curious, is this the first time you’ve noticed the media focuses on non-important issues? Are you aware of why they do so? (Hint: it’s not really much of an editorial decision to do so.)

    And by the way, all four of the candidates mentioned acknowledged that as a private club, Augusta is entitled to set their own policies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. mantis says:

    when the membership policies of a private golf club — a private golf club — become fodder for the national media and for the chattering classes the inescapable conclusion is that we’ve really slipped as a country.

    People said the same thing when black students staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the early 1960s. Private lunch counters!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. Ben says:

    When is there going to be a national uproar about the existence of female-only gyms? Or is that ok? Interesting …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I find it interesting that nobody thinks there’s a problem with banning women, but if the same club were saying the same thing about Jews, you can just BET that there would be a stink….

    And Ben? look at the percentage of men in your standard sports club before you start whining. Also look at the range of weights that are available. Now think why women might want to go to a club that doesn’t assume they can bench-press 50 lbs right off the bat…)

    (Actually, does anyone know if Curves bans men, or that they just don’t feel comfortable showing up?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. mantis says:

    @Ben:

    When is there going to be a national uproar about the existence of female-only gyms? Or is that ok? Interesting …

    That is a poor comparison for many reasons. Consider:

    - Augusta National is the top ranked golf course in the country. There is only one top ranked course.
    - Augusta National hosts one of four major championships. The Master’s is the only championship that takes place at the same course, Augusta, every year. There is only one Master’s.
    - Augusta National chairman Billy Payne refuses to even discuss the men-only membership policy.
    - Traditionally, the CEO of IBM, a major sponsor of the Master’s, has been invited to become a member. This year, the CEO of IBM is a woman.

    - There are many women’s only health club chains. The largest, Curves, has 10,000 locations worldwide.
    - In many states, Curves allows men to join.
    - Women and men are different, and their ideal fitness regimen is different. Customizing a health club to women’s fitness needs is not a matter of discrimination, but of providing a product for a certain market.
    - There are men’s only health clubs as well.

    In short, there are many, many fitness options for men and women all over the country. There is only one Augusta National. They discriminate against women, just like they discriminated against blacks for many decades until they finally allowed one to join in 1990. Of course, at the time, lots of race purists were pissed about that as well. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. al-Ameda says:

    It’s golf, who cares?

    Seriously, I wonder what would happen if the media uniformly refused to broadcast the Masters Tournament until the Augusta lifted their antebellum membership rules ban on women.

    I wish the media could act as one and force these bozos to change the rule.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0