ESPN's Bob Harig calls Augusta National's behavior an opportunity lost. A total of 11 questions about whether women would ever be allowed in the club were asked to Payne at Wednesday's press conference. Payne insisted on playing the secretive "Skull and Bones" this-is-my-business-not-yours game. Per Harig, questions and answers like this prevailed:
And so came this question: "Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous club?''
And the answer: "Once again, that deals with a membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it," Payne said.
Sound staunchly old-fashioned, and definitely old-boys' club? Maybe that's because even the controversy itself is not new: In fact, it's a decade old. In 2002, activist Martha Burk demanded the club allow female members, an endeavor supported on the pages of The New York Times and bringing criticism to then executive editor Howell Raines. As Sridhar Pappu wrote in the New York Observer that year:
Lately, Augusta National—where Tiger Woods became the first African-American champion only seven years after the club itself admitted its first black member—has had all sorts of bad press. USA Today, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have all devoted considerable column inches to the matter.
But it’s been The New York Times that has prodded and pulled the story, refusing to let it slip from the table of conversation. From its front-page features examining Mr. Woods’ place in speaking out about the matter to its strongly worded editorials, the paper has made women and Augusta the biggest sports-and-society story of the year.
What’s more, the energy of The Times’ effort on the Masters story has illuminated certain new priorities—and a swift aggressiveness—that have taken hold at the paper under executive editor Howell Raines, who’s now in his second year.
It's a decade later, and there are still no female members of the club (women are allowed to play there, now and again). But now we have this lovely backdrop of certain people comparing women to caterpillars and discussions of wars on women and how out-of-touch a certain set of older, white men seem to be. So things could play out differently this time—if someone gets the nerve to do something different. For now, the cost of aligning oneself with an organization that appears to be behaving with blatant sexism seems a cost IBM is willing to pay for the chance to remain in the power sponsorship position of the Masters. Which is, as Harig puts it, "a shame, really."
Rometty, for the record, does play golf, according to IBM, though "not frequently." But then, why would she?