For many golfers, playing at Augusta National Golf Club is a bucket-list item. The site of the Masters Tournament every April, the club is renowned for its immaculate conditions and world-class layout and boasts one of the most exclusive memberships of any golf club in the world. Augusta National represents the pinnacle of the golfing world.
Golf has always been a sport for the privileged. Access to the equipment and facilities can be prohibitively expensive, and the significant time commitment can pose another obstacle for prospective golfers. Thus, the vast majority of golfers have both the excess time and money for the sport. Golf courses, especially prestigious ones, necessarily cater to this elite population.
Augusta National is no exception to this rule. Catering to the privileged since its inception, the club developed policies that rapidly fell out of touch with the outside world and its inhabitants. Some are merely odd, such as the no-hats-indoors rule. Others serve to preserve the mystical ethos of the club, such as never publishing a list of members. Other policies, however, are remnants of a less equitable world.
Hidden behind its iconic green gates lies the ugly truth: Augusta National represents not only the classist, but also the racist and sexist history of the game of golf. The club admitted its first black member in 1990, and up until 1982, all caddies were black. Until 2012, women were only allowed to play the course when accompanied
by a male member. In 2012, Augusta succumbed to decades of external pressure to discard the all-male prerequisite and offered membership to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore. At the time, Chairman Billy Payne said, “Today is a joyous occasion.” After Virginia Rometty joined the club in 2014, Augusta National’s members are now comprised of three women and over 250 men.
The sexism that pervades Augusta also affects professional golfers. Before the 2016 Masters Tournament, several female players on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour voiced their displeasure with the fact that Augusta National only hosts a men’s tournament and will not even consider a women’s tournament. The reason behind this decision, Payne said, was that it would be too difficult to prepare the course for a second tournament. Given the club’s significant resources, though, it is hard to imagine that it could not host a tournament for the LPGA due to financial or physical limitations.
The game of golf itself prides itself on fairness and honesty. Players are often trusted to keep their own score and report it truthfully. Competitors are held to an unyielding set of rules without exception. The governing bodies of golf have also instituted the handicap system, which allows players of vastly different skill levels to play competitive matches, making the sport more equitable. It is a shame, then, that a high-profile club such as Augusta National has not done more to promote the same values that the sport instills in its participants. Instead, the club has refused to acknowledge many of its unfair policies, setting a tone of exclusion for the sake of upholding traditions from a different era.
As Andover Golf Co-Captains, we are both avid golfers and golf fans. We are fortunate to have had the resources growing up to be able to play the game at the high school level, and we recognize the immense privilege it is to play the game of golf. As much as we are golfers and golf fans, we feel that it is important to acknowledge the historical prejudices and injustices that are so firmly rooted in the origins and, in many clubs around the country like Augusta National, current state of the game. While golf has come a long way in terms of its sexist, racist, and classist traditions, it still has far more ground to cover, as evidenced by the blatantly bigoted policies of one of the most famous and renowned golf courses around the world.