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Dick Harmon: Utahns glad Augusta National adds female members

Published: Monday, Aug. 20 2012 8:32 p.m. MDT

Golfers in Utah mirrored the welcoming and even joyous sentiments expressed throughout the golfing world Monday over Augusta National's long-awaited decision to allow women members.

By announcing it had invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become members, the Augusta, Ga., club ended 80 years of male-only membership.

"I'm all for it," said Billy Casper, former Masters champion and golf Hall of Famer, while participating in a pro-am event at Oakridge Country Club.

"This is great news," said Sue Nyhus, women's golf coach at Utah Valley University and former player on the Women's European Tour. "It's long overdue."

Lesser-known local golfers shared those sentiments.

"Why shouldn't women be allowed to play there?" said Carol Paulsen, who was visiting Salt Lake City's Bonneville Golf Course. "That's long overdue."

Jen Vola, having just finished a round of golf at Bonneville, said Augusta's decision was in tune with the spirit of legendary golfer Bobby Jones, who founded the club in 1933 and was known for his sportsmanship.

"I think that this would be in keeping with what he would want, so it's time," Vola said. "There should not be barriers. There should not be sexual barriers."

Both the "name" golfers and their lesser-known counterparts had no idea why it took Augusta so long to change its often-criticized policy.

"It takes a long time for some things to happen and I'm just grateful that this has now happened," Nyhus said. "I think it will open things at Augusta and it will open up things for how women's golf is viewed in the future. I think Condoleezza Rice is a great representative for all women golfers and this is a meaningful opportunity for her and women's golf."

The move likely ends a debate that intensified in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations urged the club to include women among its members. Former club chairman Hootie Johnson stood his ground, even at the cost of losing Masters television sponsors for two years, when he famously said Augusta National might one day have a woman in a green jacket, "but not at the point of a bayonet."

The comment took on a life of its own, becoming either a slogan of the club's resolve not to give in to public pressure or a sign of its sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting it.

When asked if this move, announced by Augusta National on Monday, was a big deal, Casper said it was. "It doesn't hurt anything. There was a protest about it but now it's become a reality and the media won't have much to say any more."

Casper said women will not be taking over Augusta, even with this new rule, because of the nature of the golf course and its short seasons with many members basically from out of town or out of state.

"The course closes down on the 15th of May and is closed until the 15th of October and this is when they do the majority of the work on the golf course and they are continually doing things to improve the course," said Casper.

Casper said he never had any objections to women members and didn't understand Augusta's exclusionary rule, which allowed women to play the course but not join the club.

"I don't know what the theory was on that (no female members) but they had it that way for years and years and years," Casper said. "A woman could play on the course if they were accompanied by a male member."

Defending Utah Open champion Clay Ogden was surprised at the announcement. Ogden played in the Masters at Augusta when he won the U.S. Public Links championship, a title he earned by defeating a woman, Michelle Wie, in match play.

"That really happened?" Ogden said. "It surprises me. It's been an old boys club for so long, I never thought they'd change the rule. It is a good thing. I'm for it."

With the first female memberships in the books and the presence of women in the sport growing, Paulsen said she hoped these weren't the only memberships offered to women.

"Hopefully they will get going and have a full string of people — ladies — that they allow," she said.

Nyhus said she never played Augusta despite a lifelong involvement with the sport.

"I did try to drive down Magnolia Lane one time and was stopped," she said.

EMAIL: dharmon@desnews.com; aadams@ksl.com

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