There are generally a few ways for an organization to abandon a policy that has fallen out of social favor. One way–the best way– is for the organization to recognize its flaws on its own, and voluntarily change its policy. A second way, is for those who disagree with the organization’s policies to publicly shame, boycott, and ostracize the organization, in hopes that the policy will be changed. The third way is for the government, in one way or another, to force the organization to change its policy.
So how would we characterize Augusta National’s decision to admit women to the club along this change continuum?
Here is how the Chairman of August in 2002 characterized their thought-process:
The debate had been fermenting since 2002, when William Johnson, the club chairman at the time, responded to Burk by saying that Augusta National might one day have a female member, “but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet.”
Augusta was certainly under serious social pressure to abandon their policy–I believe they lost several sponsorships and tour events–but indeed they did it on their own timetable.
“I’m not sure they’ve changed their mind — that they had one position a few months ago and a different one today,” said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports. “Augusta, historically, has operated on its own timetable and most likely felt that the appropriate time to announce it would not be on anybody’s time schedule but their own. The fact that the media might be asking in April was one thing, but my guess is that the admission was separate from the tournament so that it would not appear that they were being pressured by the media to make an announcement.”
Did the pressure work? Probably not. Did Augusta come around on its own recognizance to change their antiquated ways? It seems that way. Does this type of gradual change bother some fo you? Probably.
Now, would you have preferred the government to have stepped in decades ago to mandate that Augusta admit women as club members? I seem to recall that such an institution would be illegal in California and some other states (not under federal law), though South Carolina seems to be ok with it.
Update: August is in Georgia, not South Carolina. H/T Bill in the Comments