Los Angeles: Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods, the White House and US presidential challenger Mitt Romney were among those praising Augusta National golf club’s admission of women members on Monday.
The landmark move broke down an 80-year ban on women joining the club which hosts the Masters.
Billy Payne, chairman of the club, said Augusta had invited former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to join and both had accepted.
“Congrats to my friend @CondoleezzaRice for joining Augusta National & congrats to Augusta National for admitting its first female members,” Romney said in a posting on Twitter.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama also welcomed the move.
“I think you’ll recall that when I was asked about this back when the Masters were about to take place I actually spoke with the president, and his answer was very clear: women should be admitted,” Carney said.
“And he welcomes this development, thinks it was too long in coming but obviously believes it’s the right thing to do.”
Augusta National’s refusal to admit women members had become an increasingly contentious issue.
The debate intensified when women’s rights activist Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organisations began publicly urging the club to include women among its members and in 2003 staged a rally across the street from the club during Masters week.
Then-chairman Hootie Johnson insisted that Augusta National might one day admit women, “but not at the point of a bayonet.”
Burk said Monday that she believed the pressure that she and others began to apply years ago paved the way for the invitations to Rice and Moore.
“Not me personally, the women’s movement yeah, we won,” Burk said in an interview with ESPN radio, adding that even though only two women were admitted to a membership thought to include about 300, it was a landmark moment for women in corporate America.
Woods, who knows Rice through their link with Stanford University, welcomed the move.
“I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf,” Woods said. “The Club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice.”
South African golf great Gary Player, a three-time Masters champion, tweeted: “Great news. Augusta National admits its first female members in 80 years.”
Another South African golfer, Tim Clark, called it a “sign of the times” and indicated it would be nice to enjoy Augusta and the Masters without the controversy hanging over the club that is revered by so many in the game.
“Augusta’s a place I love, love going there to play and love the tournament. So it’s nice to see them do this now and kind of get everyone off their backs,” Clark said after a runner-up finish in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship on Monday.
US PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem also welcomed the news.
“The PGA TOUR commends Augusta National Golf Club on the news that it has invited Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore to become its first women members,” Finchem said in a statement.
“At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport.”
While Johnson always argued that as a private club Augusta National had the right to restrict its membership - the club founded in 1932 didn’t admit black members until 1990 - Burk argued its role as host of the Masters and as a meeting ground for corporate leaders and politicians should make it answerable to anti-discrimination law.
“There are lots of gender exclusive clubs. They don’t make the same statement about the place of women in corporate America that Augusta National makes,” Burk said.
Although she welcomed the move, Burk said Augusta should be more inclusive still, with more minority and women members.
“I think they’re going to have to do a lot more,” she told ESPN. “They need to get with it and look like America.”
In a statement to The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Johnson called the move “wonderful news” for Augusta National.
“I could not be more pleased,” he said. “Darla Moore is my good friend, and I know she and Condoleezza Rice will enjoy the Club as much as I have.”