At a pre-tournament press conference last week, reporters hectored Augusta National's chairman, Billy Payne, about the message his club's rules supposedly convey. "Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world," wondered Lawrence Donegan of The Guardian, "if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?" Karen Crouse of The New York Times demanded to know what Payne would tell his own granddaughters. "How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership?"
Unlike the reporters, Payne resisted the temptation to grandstand. Perhaps he figured it would be futile, amid so much PC sanctimony, to observe that the existence of a men's golf club -- like the existence of the Ladies Professional Golf Association -- is not something that has to be "explained." Still, the point cannot be made often enough: If we wish to live in a free and diverse society, freedom of association is indispensable.
Not all discrimination is invidious. Coed golf clubs -- like coed gyms, coed colleges, coed business networks, and coed summer camps -- are great for those who value them. And all-male or all-female venues are great for those who value them. Augusta National should no more be pressured to admit women as members than Wellesley College or the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Junior League should be pressured to admit men. In athletics, education, and recreation, such a multiplicity of options makes America richer, not poorer. Billy Payne's granddaughters are far better off growing up in a country that has room for them all.
In the commotion over Augusta National's membership policy, much was made of the fact that IBM, a sponsor of the Master's Tournament, is now headed by a woman, Virginia Rometty. Previous IBM CEOs had been offered club membership, the critics said; how could Augusta National do any less for Rometty?
In reality, the elevation of a woman to the helm of IBM is just more evidence of how inconsequential this whole ginned-up flap really is. It used to be said that without access to elite social clubs like Augusta National, women could never penetrate the "old boys' network" and its monopoly on power. Tell that to Ginni Rometty and the countless other women who wield influence in America. We live in an era when women are senators, governors, and Supreme Court justices; when they lead giant corporations and are awarded Nobel prizes; when they are space-shuttle commanders and Ivy League presidents. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, American women today can succeed at virtually anything. Why would any serious person fret over what a golf club does?