Dreaming of LPGA at Augusta

Rick Reilly discusses Augusta National's decision to admit Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members.

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You don't demand anything of Augusta National. Everyone should be very clear on that by now. You don't push the members of the club. You don't argue or debate with them, at least not publicly.

You think twice about even suggesting or nudging. If there's something subtler than a nudge, that's what you try.

Doesn't mean it's going to work. Maybe not ever. But if a reverent (that's also a requirement) and subtle nudge takes root, then perhaps someday ...

With the news that two women have been invited to be members at Augusta National, one should not jump to the conclusion that we are any closer to one day having an LPGA tournament there, as the PGA Tour does with the iconic Masters.

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Paula Creamer has been able to play at Augusta National, but will she someday get to play there in an LPGA tournament?

Because that's another thing you never do with Augusta National: jump to conclusions. It's an extremely private, secret, old-money sanctuary that does things the way the members want. Period.

But maybe we're an inch closer ... although it still may be a million miles away. It's impossible to know what's impossible with Augusta National. But if you like the LPGA -- even just a little bit -- it isn't hard to daydream. To the contrary, it's hard not to.

"I think it's pretty cool," Paula Creamer said via email from the LPGA at the tour stop in Canada. "I've been able to play [at Augusta National], and I got to stay at Butler Cabin. It's a big step for women's golf, and it's a big step for golf in general."

Indeed, one misconception should be cleared up: Augusta National does allow women to play the course, so long as they are invited by a member. LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, for instance, also has played there.

Even in the midst of the bayonet rattling that went on a decade ago between former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson and National Organization for Women leader Martha Burk, Johnson noted that he had invited the members of the South Carolina women's golf team to play the course.

But not having any female members meant Augusta National had no female voice in membership issues or other decisions about the club and the course. Now, at least that has changed. Furthermore, current Augusta National chairman Billy Payne has long been in support of female membership. It seems unlikely that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore would have been invited to be members without his patient stewardship.

Whether all that means anything in regard to the LPGA, though, is another story. Clearly, Augusta National doesn't need the LPGA. But maybe over time the club will come to want the best women's golfers to play there annually, just like the men.

I'm one of many writers over the years who have fantasized about how cool it would be to report on a women's event -- such as the LPGA Championship -- from Augusta National. Admittedly, it usually has seemed as realistic as hoping to see a tournament played on another planet.

Still, you can hope. Or even ask (gently). LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, in a May interview with Forbes magazine, said he thought Augusta National should have a women's tournament.

But he added, "It's a private club; they can do what they want. It's worth noting that Augusta National is an incredible supporter of some of our initiatives. They write us a six-figure check every year for Girls Golf, which helps get girls into the sport. I don't think it's a guilt check. Maybe it is. What's frustrating is that the best players now on our tour can't play there. I ask every year."

Sure, there are many obstacles to having an LPGA event at Augusta National. There's "the tradition," of course, which symbolically should have not just a capital "T," but a skyscraper-high one. The club shares its legendary course with the world once a year for the Masters. Some say anything beyond that would somehow lessen that tradition.

Logically, though, that's a silly fear. The Masters already has proved that it's unassailable in regard to its popularity and place atop golf's hierarchy. And consider that most of the famous tracks in Great Britain -- the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Turnberry -- have hosted the Women's British Open. Royal Liverpool is hosting the Women's British this September for the first time, in fact. The aura of those courses is undiminished.

Most of the world's revered sports arenas and sites either always have been or have become coed. We recently watched women play Olympic soccer at Wembley Stadium. Every year, we see men and women share tennis's grand stages at the likes of Wimbledon and Roland Garros. Augusta National would be no less "golf's cathedral" if a women's tournament were held there. To the contrary, it would become more so.

But there are many practical hurdles. For one, the limited window of time that might be available for Augusta to even consider allowing an LPGA event. Again, this is the members' course, and they have every right to be very protective of it. Logistically, having another tournament would pose numerous challenges. But none that couldn't be overcome -- if the members so chose.

Augusta National's support for golf in general is something the club values. The checks Whan mentioned for Girls Golf come from a lot of men who are -- among many other things -- fathers of daughters.

The goal of playing in the Masters is something only a relatively small percentage of men ever attain. How much would it mean to female golfers of the future to have the chance to play a Masters-like event of their own on the same hallowed ground?

LPGA player Ai Miyazato of Japan said she got goose bumps Monday when she heard the news of the first women members, because that fact alone makes LPGA players feel Augusta National might be just a little bit closer to them.

That may not, in fact, be the case. But again, even the idea of it is heavenly for the LPGA. And an LPGA event there would be another chance for people to lay eyes on Augusta National.

Scott Michaux, columnist at the Augusta Chronicle and an expert on all things related to Augusta National and the Masters, wrote in May of his longtime vision of an LPGA event there. He noted that the Titleholders -- which was an LPGA major from 1937 to 1966 -- was held numerous times at Augusta Country Club. So the city, if not Augusta National itself, has a history with a major women's event.

Also, Michaux pointed out that in 1937 and '38, Augusta National was the site of the first two Senior PGA Championships. That was a very long time ago, but it means, as Michaux wrote, "a second tournament there is not without precedent."

Again, things at Augusta National move very slowly. Burk will no doubt grate on many nerves with her "We won!" comments, but the bottom line is that Augusta National came to this when it was ready. Burk is right that the members actually needed pushing from a source far outside the golf world. But inside the golf world, shoving is not allowed in regard to Augusta National. At least not if you want a positive response.

Which Whan does, even if it happens well after his tenure as LPGA commissioner. His statement Monday was succinct and deferential, a good tactic with Augusta National.

"Congratulations to Condoleezza and Darla for their entry into Augusta National membership," Whan said. "We hope that this step forward leads to many more for women within the game of golf."

Progress comes in fits and starts, but sometimes does take leaps forward. We will see how much of a leap this becomes. Rice and Moore are sure to be model members, and just as adept at guarding Augusta National's privacy and code of conduct as anyone in the club. But for LPGA players, this does mean the door has opened a crack.

Golfer Brittany Lincicome said Monday via an email from the LPGA, "I was reading through the tweets this morning, and I was like, 'That can't be right.' I kept reading and reading all of the comments.

"It's amazing. I'm so jealous. I haven't even gotten to play that golf course. So maybe one of those nice ladies would invite me out one day to play."

Who knows, perhaps Augusta National will invite the whole LPGA Tour someday.

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