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Jane Ahlin, Published April 14 2012

Ahlin: Had enough of the aging, gentlemanly chauvinists?

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the expected Republican challenger in November’s presidential election, finally agree on something: They both think the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the storied Masters golf tournament, should admit women. How refreshing; then again, it appears they might as well suggest Rhett Butler play second fiddle to Scarlet.

On one level, Augusta National’s ability to cling to the overt sexism of yesteryear is downright amazing. On another level, however, the nation’s tolerance for the private club’s unabashedly discriminatory no-women-allowed stance is a national embarrassment. In this day and age, try to imagine any private club with a similar policy against Jews or blacks or Hispanics. As the good old boys say, “That dog won’t hunt.”

Particularly offensive this year was the snub of Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, the chief executive officer of IBM, one of the Masters tournament’s three sponsors. The four IBM CEOs preceding Rometty all were invited to join the club and ceremoniously dressed in the famous green blazer (ugly, really, but so prestigious). But Rometty wasn’t. Not that her public actions suggest she was upset. Instead, Rometty showed up with other spectators at the 18th green for the fourth round of the tournament. Her blazer? Pink.

Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman who followed Hootie Johnson (well-known for managing to televise the Masters two years in a row without sponsors when it seemed sponsor pressure might force the club to admit women) said, “All issues of membership remain the private deliberations of the membership. We don’t talk about our private deliberations.” (Just an aside: Would you buy a used car from a duo named Hootie and Billy?)

Interestingly, the business and financial news provider Bloomberg did several reports on IBM, its CEO and the Masters flap, including the likely amount the sponsorship costs IBM every year, which was said to be at least

$10 million. Considering the insult to their CEO – to the corporation, too, since she is their public face – that’s a chunk of change for IBM and its board members to fork over.

Rometty, herself, isn’t saying what she thinks. One business executive interviewed by a Bloomberg reporter speculated that Rometty “is in a role where she is valued for her managerial expertise, her business acumen. She’s not a politician. She’s not a spokesperson for women’s rights. She’s relatively new in the job. So I can really see why she may be reluctant to get front and center on this issue.”

Now that’s what I call convoluted logic. The implication in the executive’s words is that the brouhaha is about Rometty. It isn’t. It’s about an exclusive old boys club that values the “managerial expertise” and “business acumen” of CEOs at the helms of its financial sponsors – that is, until one of the CEOs is a woman. At that point, the club’s “history” and “tradition” and “privacy” take over.

Before the 2012 Masters tournament began and before four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods lost control of his game and his temper, Woods had this to say at a news conference: “The history behind this tournament just makes it so special.”

One assumes he wasn’t talking about the “special” history of excluding blacks, which did not end until 1990.

The PGA could stop anointing the Masters as an official PGA tour win, since the association’s own rules decree its tournaments be

held at clubs with nondiscriminatory policies. In truth, hiding behind the designation of Augusta National as a “private” club is a joke. In the world of golf, that particular club is a power cabal with profound effect on the game, both in the United States and internationally. And women belong where that type of influence is wielded.

Still, until the golf world stands up to Hootie and Billy and the guys, that won’t change. In fact, they all might as well be telling IBM’s CEO the same thing Rhett said to Scarlet at the end of “Gone With the Wind”: “Frankly, my dear, [we] don’t give a damn.”

Ahlin, Fargo, writes a Sunday column for The Forum.

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