03/29/2012 06:42 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2012

Augusta National Golf Club's Ban On Women Hits A Corporate Sponsorship Snag

I don't watch a lot of golf because as near as I can tell I'm not immortal and thus can't be wasting the finite amount of time I have on this earth watching it. But I'm at least aware of the fact that the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters, has historically barred women from becoming members and that an activist named Martha Burk has long waged an campaign to change that policy.

Burk's efforts have thus far proven fruitless, but over at ThinkProgress, Travis Waldron reports that as a result of a collision of another Augusta tradition, a change may finally come. Or not! We'll see.

Everything basically hangs on how much fealty the golf club is willing to show to its historic corporate sponsors. See, one of the Masters' longtime sponsors is IBM. And the golf club has honored that company's CEO -- along with the CEOs of Exxon Mobil and AT&T -- with the symbolic trappings of membership. But here's the tricky part: The new CEO of IBM is Ginni Rometty, currently ranked No. 7 on Fortune magazine's list of the "50 Most Powerful Women in Business."

It says a lot about how casual one can be about the lack of concern that there is insufficient gender equity at the executive level in corporate America that the Augusta National Golf Club managed to make it all the way to the 21st century with the rest of us without foreseeing this eventuality. Waldron gets to the heart of the matter:

Rometty’s situation, though, gives her leverage Burk never had. The CEOs of the other two Masters sponsors, Exxon Mobil and AT&T, are both members, and they’ll both be donning the club’s signature green jackets next week. If Rometty isn’t allowed to join them (and given Augusta’s history, she probably won’t be), it will send another message to the 6 million American women who play golf and countless others who watch it that even if they are capable of breaking every last one of corporate America’s glass ceilings, they aren’t capable of playing golf with the boys.

It would be nice if Waldron's pessimism ends up going unrequited by the golf club, and it takes this brave step into the present. But even if the club doesn't, it's still a net good that its prejudices are going to end up in the crosshairs.

Nevertheless, this is still a dispiriting reminder that far too often, you don't get justice until an injustice crosses up some staggeringly wealthy person. (See also: marriage equality in New York.) Speaking of this, maybe historic hoodie-wearer Mark Zuckerberg could help America resolve some issues right about now?

How IBM Could Force an End to One 'Tradition Unlike Any Other' at This Year’s Masters: Gender Bias [ThinkProgress]
Golf’s Masters Facing Male-Only Dilemma With New IBM CEO [Bloomberg News]

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