Augusta National Golf Club admits first female members

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(CNN)–Augusta National Golf Club has admitted its first female members, the private club announced Monday.

The decision to admit former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore ends a longstanding policy excluding women as members of the exclusive Georgia club, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament.

“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership,” Augusta Chairman Billy Payne said Monday. “It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.”

The issue of whether women should be allowed to become members of the club has been controversial for more than a decade. Women’s rights activist Martha Burk highlighted the issue in 2002, when she led a series of protests over the issue.

Rice served under President George W. Bush as the first female national security adviser and the first African-American woman to hold the post of secretary of state.

Moore is the vice president of Rainwater Inc., the investment firm founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater. Fortunate magazine once named her among the top 50 women in business, and the University of South Carolina’s business school is named in her honor.

Women’s rights activist Martha Burk made Augusta the focus of national attention beginning in 2002, when she wrote letters challenging the male-only membership policy at Augusta.

The club’s chairman at the time, Hootie Johnson, responded saying that admitting women as members would not be done “at the point of a bayonet.”