Augusta National Stays Mum on When IBM’s Female CEO Can Join

International Business Machines Corp. will sponsor Augusta National Golf Club’s Masters tournament for the 12th straight year later this week, even as Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty waits for a public invitation to join the formerly all-male organization.

Augusta National has historically invited IBM’s CEOs to join its ranks, though not necessarily when they first take the job. Rometty, who became the company’s first female chief in 2012, found herself at the center of a controversy last year over the club’s exclusion of women. Under pressure to change its rules, the club invited two women to join after the last tournament was held. Rometty, 55, wasn’t among them.

Rometty, whose company has sponsored the Masters since 2002, will probably receive an invite eventually, said Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer for Landor Associates, a global branding and design firm. Still, Augusta National may not be in a hurry to give her a green jacket -- the symbol of membership in the 80-year-old club.

“You can’t say it’s an equal-rights issue anymore because they admitted a couple women,” Roth said. “Now it’s Augusta playing by its own arcane rules, as always, and they have nothing to gain by playing into the controversy.”

Augusta National’s members include Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CEO Warren Buffett and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. Controversy over the club’s all-male membership flared last March when Bloomberg News reported that Rometty’s ascension to the CEO job would create a conundrum for the organization: It would have to either stop offering membership to IBM CEOs or break its prohibition on women in general.

Condoleezza Rice

Augusta National defused the debate last August when it added former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and philanthropist Darla Moore as its first female members. The club sends out invitations in the summer, suggesting that no new members have been added since then. Steve Ethun, a Masters Tournament spokesman, declined to comment on Rometty’s status.

As a sponsor, IBM is featured in the Masters’ television commercials and runs the tournament’s website, mobile-phone applications and media-center technology. Ed Barbini, a spokesman for Armonk, New York-based IBM, said the company doesn’t comment on private club memberships.

IBM has said Rometty plays golf, though not frequently. Since January, she has posted scores for eight rounds of golf, including four rounds in April, according to the U.S. Golf Association’s handicap-tracking website. Her scores range from 105 to 135. She has a 36.3 handicap index, which measures how far above par she is on average.

Rometty joked about her golf handicap during a speech last month at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I don’t know that it’s allowed to go higher,” she said.

When asked if her golf skills had improved since she became CEO, she replied that she’s been busy running the company.

“I am working, working, working all the time,” Rometty said.

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