- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Don’t overlook the two biggest winners in Augusta National’s decision to invite women to join the club.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are now members of one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world. They will be presented green jackets when the golf course opens for a new season in October. They can attend the members-only parties, including the Jamboree each spring. Members are discouraged from playing too much at the home of the Masters, though they can bring guests and stay in the white cabins along the 10th fairway.

If their schedules allow, they will be assigned a committee during the Masters. They will be at the members-only dinner in an upstairs chalet at the end of the tournament to toast the newest Masters champion.

But they weren’t the only winners.

The only thing Augusta National ever says about membership issues is that it doesn’t discuss them. Nothing spoke to the historic nature of Monday’s decision more than club chairman Billy Payne issuing a press release to confirm Rice and Moore as the newest members.

He called it a “joyous occasion,” which could be interpreted many ways.

Perhaps the joy is knowing that he won’t be fielding any more questions why Augusta National hasn’t had a female member in its 80-year history. Or that the focus at the Masters can return to white dogwoods, pink azaleas and lightning fast greens.

It does seem strange that keeping up with the times _ some argue Augusta was a century behind _ by adding female members would constitute a “joyous occasion.”

Even so, Augusta National comes out a winner because it still called the shots.

Former chairman Hootie Johnson said as much 10 years ago when he felt Martha Burk and her women’s advocacy group were threatening the Masters because the club had no women as members.

“There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet,” Johnson said.

In an interview in his office later that year, Johnson distributed a historical summary of the club and the Masters, the highest-rated golf telecast in the world.

“Our society is changing, and it is only natural that our club should reflect these changes in contemporary society,” Johnson wrote in the one-page summary. “We are finding more and more, our existing members’ suggestions for new members have broadened to include a varied cross section of this society. We expect this trend to continue.”

It seems as though Augusta was headed in this direction all along.

A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because club matters are private, suspects Payne knew in April during the Masters that two women would be fitted for a green jacket by the end of the year.

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