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Augusta National Admits First Female Members

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "A tradition unlike any other" is about to change.

Augusta National Golf Club has announced it is outfitting its first two female members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore, with green jackets when the new season starts in October. Previously, Augusta had been a male-only club, despite some notable objections.

"This is a joyous occasion," Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said, describing the moment. "These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their green jackets when the club opens this fall. This is a significant and positive time in our club's history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family."

One of Augusta National's sponsors, AT&T (T) issued a statement through its chairman & CEO, Randall Stephenson, who is also a member of the club. "As a sponsor of The Masters, we applaud today's historic announcement by Augusta National and warmly welcome Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National," Stephenson said.

The issue of a male-only club received intense scrutiny a decade ago when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations publicly pressured Augusta National to include women. Augusta's former chairman Hootie Johnson denied Burk's plea, going so far as to lose television sponsorship for a couple of years as a result. Johnson retired as chairman in 2006.

The issue became a subject of discussion again earlier this year, with IBM (IBM) having Virginia Rometty as its CEO. IBM, long one of Augusta's television sponsors, has had its CEO become a member of the club. Rometty was not named a member this time around. IBM could not be reached for comment on the news.

Citing someone with knowledge of the operations of the club, both Rice and Moore were first considered members as early as five years ago, after Johnson stepped down as chairman. Ironically, Johnson and Moore are close friends, both hailing from South Carolina and having roots in the banking industry. Moore, 58, started at Chemical Bank in the 1908s. Chemical Bank, which merged with Chase Manhattan Bank, later became part of JPMorgan (JPM).

Rice, 57, was the former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser under President George W. Bush. She now teaches political economy at Stanford, where she was the school's first African-American female provost.

These changes mark a historic moment for a club long mired in the "good ol' boys" way of operating.

"A tradition unlike any other" is changing forever.

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--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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