Augusta National Golf Club, which has come under increasing attack over the past decade because of its all-male membership, announced Monday that it had added two female members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore.
"This is a joyous occasion," Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a statement released by the club in Augusta, Ga.
Mr. Payne, who was on vacation and not available for further comment, added, "These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well-known and respected by our membership."
In April, at his annual news conference before the Masters Tournament, Mr. Payne deflected questions about the absence of female members in the club. Augusta National's membership policies became a major talking point again because IBM, one of the Masters' three principal sponsors, had elevated Virginia Rometty to chief executive. The company's previous four chief executives had been given club membership.
The lack of an invitation for Ms. Rometty sparked a discussion during the tournament week, with even President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, voicing the opinion that the club should open its doors to women.
"This is a significant and positive time in our club's history," Mr. Payne said in his statement, "and on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta family."
Ms. Rice, 57, served as national security adviser and secretary of state under President George W. Bush. She is now a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, where she has also been provost. Ms. Rice was long considered a likely candidate for Augusta National membership if it became open to women.
"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," Ms. Rice said in a statement released by the club. "I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. 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."
Ms. Moore, 58, is vice president of Rainwater Inc., a private investment company founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater. She rose to success in banking, becoming the industry's highest-paid woman and the first woman to be on the cover of Fortune magazine. The University of South Carolina business school is named after her.
Former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson in a statement described Ms. Moore as a "good friend." Like Mr. Johnson, Ms. Moore is a South Carolina native, a University of South Carolina graduate and a banker.
Opened in 1932, Augusta National added its first black member in 1990. Women had been allowed to play at the club as guests. In 2002, Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations began a campaign that urged the club to include women before the 2003 Masters.
"There may well come a day, when women will be invited to join our membership," said Mr. Johnson, then the chairman, "but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet."
Monday's announcement was another example of Augusta National conducting its business on its own terms. The club has long responded to questions about its policy by saying membership issues are a private matter, so even the press release announcing the invitations to Ms. Rice and Ms. Moore was something of a surprise.
"We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National," Mr. Payne said in the statement. "Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different."
Hall of Fame golfer Amy Alcott has played Augusta National as a guest. She was amid a charity tournament Monday at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., when she found out through phone messages that women had been admitted to Augusta National as members. "It is a great thing that it has happened," she said.
Ms. Alcott, who said she was paired with an Augusta National member but had not discussed the news with him, added: "People have been waiting for this. Nobody functions well with an ultimatum. I said it would happen when people least expect it."
The PGA Tour prevents courses with a discriminatory membership policy from hosting its tournaments, but in May, the tour commissioner, Tim Finchem, said that when it came to Augusta National, the Masters was "too important" to the tour's interests.
Referring to Ms. Burk's protest, he said: "We were asked publicly, 'Why wouldn't we disengage recognizing the Masters as part of the PGA Tour?' At that time, we said we would not do that. I'm just saying our position on that hasn't changed."
In a statement released Monday, Mr. Finchem said, "At a time when women represent one of the fastest-growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport."
First Published August 21, 2012 4:00 AM