Condi Rice Blazes Trail at Augusta National

Loose Ball: The former secretary of state breaks new ground at golf's all-male bastion in Georgia.

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Stan Badz/U.S. PGA Tour

(The Root) -- Condoleezza Rice doesn't mind being among the best in her field, and she hasn't been shy about being first, either, whether it was the first African-American woman to serve as national security adviser, secretary of state or Stanford University provost.

Now she can add another precedent to her list: the first African-American woman to become a member at the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters.

"I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity," Rice said Monday in a statement released by the club. She joins South Carolina financier Darla Moore as the revered club's first female members.

This is no small step for Augusta National, which opened in 1932 and seemingly has been stuck there ever since. The club didn't have a black member until 1990, but there's no shortage of back waiters, black bartenders and black caddies. It's among the nation's most exclusive organizations, believed to have about 300 members, all of them accomplished, connected and wealthy.

Part of me wants to congratulate the club for leaving its antebellum roots behind. Another part wants to ask, "What took so damn long?" A decade has passed since Martha Burk, of the National Council of Women's Organizations, began pushing Augusta National to include female members. Burk's urging led to a famous quote from then-club Chairman Hootie Johnson: "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet."

Though there was no movement during the past 10 years, the issue arose in April when Virginia Rometty became IBM's chief executive. The company's previous four CEOs were given club membership; Rometty was not.

Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne deflected questions about women as potential members four months ago, but he called Monday "a joyous occasion" in announcing that Rice and Moore had accepted invitations to join.

"These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf, and both are well-known and respected by our membership," Payne said in a statement. "It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall. This is a significant and positive time in our club's history, and on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family."

Rice, 57, is best-known for her work in government and academia (she's currently a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business), but she has mentioned her love of sports on many occasions, especially football. She dreams about becoming the NFL commissioner one day, and she stars in a new marketing blitz for female NFL fans. She took up golf seven years ago and went at it with a passion, as she does everything else.

Now, as a golf fan who is about to gain entrance to Augusta National, Rice seems more focused on the game than on her gender or historical significance. "I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf," she said. "I also have an immense respect for the Masters tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world."

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM