Billy Payne had a lot to get to on Wednesday during his annual question-and-answer session with the media at Augusta National Golf Club.
The club’s chairman spoke of Bubba Watson’s stirring victory in 2012 and the various initiatives his club and the Masters tournament foundation are promoting before stopping himself.
“Now, before going any further, and because I think you’re interested,” Payne said, “we would like to reaffirm the enthusiasm we expressed last August when we announced that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore had become members of Augusta National Golf Club.”
The first two female members in the celebrated club’s history indeed proved to be the main subject of Wednesday’s gathering. Payne said Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, and Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman, both were in town and working for the club.
“At the time, we described that welcoming Condi and Darla as members of Augusta National represented a joyous occasion for the club,” Payne said. “This week, that’s truer than ever and I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as members of our club, has been every bit as rewarding and enjoyable for them over the last eight months as it has been for their fellow members. It’s just awesome.”
Subsequent attempts to get Payne to expand on the process the club used in determining the addition of Moore and Rice met with little success. At times, Payne deflected questions.
“We admitted them because they are two great members of the club and we are all looking forward to increasing our relationships with these wonderful ladies,” Payne said when asked if he thought their inclusion would send a message to other clubs that had yet to invite women into their membership.
Asked why it had taken so long for the club to admit women – 22 years after inviting its first African-American member – Payne declined to get into specifics.
“I think that question gets into the process that we took and the time that we took,” he said. “It went about the same process and the same amount of time as any other member. Beyond that, I wouldn’t have any comment on that.”
While Payne had little to add, the world’s No. 1 golfer enthusiastically endorsed the club’s move.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday. “The club, it was the right timing. And, for me, knowing Condoleezza over all these years, they couldn’t have had a better person and I got to see her on Sunday.
“Yeah,” Woods continued, “I think it’s just fantastic and the timing’s right.”
Rice played a round of golf on Sunday with Phil Mickelson. Still smarting from a mini-controversy he ignited concerning his tax bill earlier this year, Mickelson declined to say whether clubs such as England’s Royal and Ancient should follow Augusta’s lead.
“I love the game of golf and I love playing professional golf,” Mickelson said. “I love playing different courses, I love being part of different tournaments and organizations. What I don’t love is getting involved in the politics of it. I tried that earlier in the year, regularly, and it didn’t go so well, so I’m good.”
According to club officials, neither Rice nor Moore will be made available for comment during the tournament.