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Time for a female member at Augusta National?

  • Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters tournament this week
  • The club has never had a female member
  • Could the new CEO of IBM be the first woman to join?
Time for a female member at Augusta National?

There’s something in the air in Georgia this week, and I’m not talking about pollen. No, that electricity you sense is the buzz leading up to The Masters, the most famous golf tournament in the world. 

The sport’s elite players are descending on Augusta National Golf Club this week to compete for the green jacket and a place in history. Tiger Woods, fresh off his first victory in two and a half years, will be trying to win the Masters for the fifth time. Phil Mickelson will try to match Tiger with four green jackets. Rory McIlroy will aim to make up for last year’s final-round meltdown

The story lines are abundant at Augusta, as are the traditions: The Wednesday par-3 contest. The azaleas in full bloom. Pimento cheese sandwiches for $1.50. 

Oh, and no female members allowed. 

If Augusta National is most famous for hosting the Masters, it may be almost as well-known for being a boys’ club, without apology. The golf course has been tweaked numerous times in 80 years, but the membership policy has remained constant (at least as far as the public knows -- the club doesn’t comment on its membership.) The issue has been mostly dormant for the better part of a decade, since the ill-fated protests led by Martha Burk. But now it’s back in the news, with an interesting twist. 

The Masters broadcast has just four minutes of commercials an hour, from three advertisers: IBM, AT&T and Exxon. The club reportedly has granted membership to the CEOs of all three companies. 

And that’s where things get interesting. In January, IBM named Virginia Rometty as the company’s first female CEO. With the Masters upon us, speculation has grown that Rometty will achieve another first by possibly breaking the glass ceiling at Augusta National. 

According to Bloomberg, Rommety, 54, plays golf, but not frequently. And she could play at Augusta, as the guest of a member. Whether she becomes a member herself is another story. 

One thing is certain: The powers-that-be at Augusta maintain tight control over every aspect of the tournament. And while club chairman Billy Payne almost certainly will be asked about Rometty during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday, don't expect much of an answer. A spokesman for the club told CNN Sports, "We won't be issuing a statement or offering any comment."

Payne’s predecessor as Augusta National’s chairman, Hootie Johnson, famously said during the Burk-led protests in 2003, “If I drop dead this second, our position will not change on this issue.” Johnson is still alive, although no longer in charge at Augusta. 

So, whether we’ll see a female member drive up Magnolia Lane any time soon is pure guesswork. In the meantime, I’ll be concentrating on what we know is going to happen starting on Thursday: four magical days of golf, played on the sport’s grandest stage, ending with one golfer etching his name into the history books. 

As traditions go, that’s a good one.

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