“IBM can decide to support the Augusta National as is, but the tradeoffs are huge,” says Mary Ellen Balchunis, a political scientist at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, who will be using the episode for her course on women in politics.
"First, it would be a real slap in the face to CEO Ginny Rometty should the Augusta National not admit her as a member," she says in an e-mail. "Second, should IBM continue to be the chief sponsor if IBM does not admit their CEO, IBM should be prepared for a large boycott by women. Women are IBM users and purchasers.”
For its part, Augusta has long been proud of its exclusivity and conservatism. It didn’t have a black member until 1990, when the club extended an invitation to Gannett television executive Ron Townsend, according Orin Starn, a cultural anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and a golf historian.
“You would think that Augusta would be very sensitive, even embarrassed about its exclusionary past – this was a club that was very much about Jim Crow for the first five decades of its existence,” says Professor Starn, author of “The Passion of Tiger Woods.” “Apparently, they refuse to discard their anachronistic, stick-to-their-guns mentality.”
But some observers say the outcry over Augusta's member list misses the point. The women's rights movement has moved well beyond caring about an exclusive golf club in Georgia.
“Augusta’s intransigence is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the battle for equal rights," says Jason Maloni, senior vice president of sports and entertainment for Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. "Women have ignored Augusta like Germany ignored the Maginot Line in World War II.”