There are delicious moments in life that can only be appreciated in the context of a long period of time. There are forks in the road that demand an audience. This week serves up one of those moments.
There is a long standing tradition at the Augusta National Golf Club to offer membership to the CEO of IBM (a major sponsor) during the Masters Golf tournament. The Masters is the first major of the year, and perhaps the most important tournament for many professional golfers who are looking to start the year on the right track. There is only one problem: The Augusta National Golf Club does not allow membership for women and IBM's new CEO is, you guessed it, a woman. Her name is Ginni Rometty and she took over the reins of the tech giant in January.
It is a sweet coincidence that Augusta is now forced to make a very high profile decision, and could face a backlash if it makes the wrong one. If you haven't caught on yet, it would be disastrous for Augusta's National Chairman Billy Payne to deny Rometty membership. Let's not forget that every year around this time there are calls for the abolition of such a discriminatory policy, yet Augusta has been able to get away with it in the name of tradition. The same tradition that now forces their hand.
Indeed, the irony is almost too perfect. Of course it is also rewarding to witness the moral demise of those good old boys who never thought a woman could possibly be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Augusta's Chairman does not want to talk about gender issues, insisting that membership decisions will remain confidential. He has made that clear, but he has an opportunity to end a policy that should have ended a long time ago.
There is some precedent. In 2007 for instance, the Wimbledon tennis tournament did away with their policy of paying male players more prize money than female players. It was the right thing to do, and it earned Wimbledon an enormous amount of goodwill and excellent PR. Augusta must do the same. There is also the issue of what IBM should do if its chairwoman is not offered membership. Should Big Blue withdraw its sponsorship? Should it continue to sponsor the tournament? We will find out this week.