Augusta National (Finally) Gets with the Times

We know change is often difficult, but it is also an unavoidable, necessary and indispensable catalyst to the very concept of improvement. In many respects, the PR industry is about handling change: how to predict it, identify it and proactively leverage it as an asset instead of ignoring it and turning it into a certain liability. To the Augusta National Golf Club, which today broke an 80-year-old practice of not allowing women to join its ranks, we can only say: It’s about time.

For Americans, the notion of democracy is in our DNA; we’re raised on it, breathe it, sing about it and integrate it into our identities. We know that our differences make us stronger, not weaker, as a society, so of course we’re skeptical of exclusivity–especially when exercised through a long-standing policy based on gender, race or creed. Today, everyone even remotely associated with the Augusta National Golf Club, the Masters Tournament and the sport of golf is almost certainly breathing a huge PR sigh of relief.

PR experts preach familiarizing yourself with your audience, the virtue of transparency and the power of public perception; this case involved all three vital components. Women are clearly an important and powerful demographic in golf with formidable spending power. They enjoy golf, they’re happy to pay for the privilege and they want to play formative roles in the institutions that wield influence over the sport, its practices and its image. The new members (former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore of South Carolina private investment firm Rainwater) represent a changing attitude within the institution’s elite–a new sensibility that understands tradition as a component of evolution and knows that change should be accepted with grace, intelligence and enthusiasm, not fear. Their move was long overdue–but it’s always better late than never.