Virginia Rometty isn’t the first women to approach the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club. I entered a man’s domain when I became the first women to join the ranks of television CEOs to be invited to the privileged Media Day luncheon, always a Thursday event, and the first day of tournament play. The year was 1982.
I am the founder and then the CEO of USA Network. We had negotiated a license to cover the Thursday and Friday tournament coverage in cooperation with CBS and Augusta National Golf Club. It was the first time the first two days were to be covered live on TV. It was also the first time I had ever attended the event.
It was a magnificent spring day, sunny and warm, and the generous hospitality of the Augusta members was on display. This really is one of the world’s most prized events to experience even if you aren’t a golfer. The course is lined with flowering dogwood, cherry blossoms, azaleas and a potpourri of other plants of magnificent color. I was truly impressed with its beauty. Also impressive was the lack of commercialism — no big corporate banners, no merchandise tents. It was and still is the club of Southern hospitality.
However, it was also the club with no black, women or Jewish members. In that year I also remember being astonished that all the club caddies were black and that they were the only black people allowed on the course.
So I should not have been surprised by what happened as a dozen or so executives of the TV networks gathered with Chairman Hord Hardin in front of the Clubhouse to go to lunch. We entered the front door and into the main dining room where club members and guests, including women, were having lunch. We proceeded up the staircase just to the left of the hallway leading back from the main dining room. Hord was leading the way and I was right with him as we ascended the staircase. The men followed.
As we approached the top of the stairs, Hord turned to me with a concerned look on his face and said in his deep southern drawl, “Ah, Kay, we’ve got a problem.” Hmm, a problem, I thought. “What’s our problem, Hord?”
He hemmed and hawed a little and then said, “We don’t allow women on the second floor.”
Knowing I wasn’t about to go downstairs and eat by myself, I quipped back, “Well, Hord. What are we going to do about that?”
After only a moment’s hesitation on Hord’s part he offered, “Well, I guess we’ll eat downstairs in the Trophy Room.” The group turned around en masse and filed back out the front door and walked over to the Trophy Room, just 30 yards or so away.
And so it was in 1982 that a new tradition was started at Augusta, as the TV luncheon was held in the Trophy Room for the next decade, until the upstairs men’s grill was finally open to all.
Flash forward to eight years later, when racial equality was causing pressure for the PGA at Shoal Creek, Alabama. A colleague and I were seated on Hord’s veranda overlooking the lake in Harbor Springs Michigan. Hord was rambling on when he stopped short and his eyes lit up. Out of the blue he commented that I’d make a fine member of the club. Obvious to me then, he was thinking he’d throw the heat off the race issue by inviting a woman to join. But suddenly another thought crossed his mind, and I saw his eyes cloud over. He looked me directly in the eye and softly said, “You married a Jew, didn’t you?”
I know traditions are slow to change, but change they do. Augusta does have a few black and Jewish members but no women yet. Now, thirty years after I first arrived, our time has come.
It’s been a long drive since I first teed up women at Augusta. Now it’s time for Ginny and others to don the coveted Green Jacket.