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The Masters, IBM & CEO Rometty - Some Predictions

By: Nancy Berkley


Augusta National Golf Club is presented with a "perfect storm" and the opportunity to survive the storm in better shape than before the clouds appeared. The 2012 Masters Tournament begins with the first round on Thursday, April 5th. Soon we will know whether Augusta National has a female member.

I predict that the new CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty, will be invited (or already has been invited) to become a member of Augusta National. Her position as Chief Executive Officer was announced October 2011, but she officially took office January 1st.

And, I predict that Rometty has already or will accept that invitation. And I predict that at some time during the tournament, Ginni (as she is often referred to) will appear wearing a green jacket emblematic of her membership. A few reporters and articles will herald or bemoan the event. But it's also my prediction that, aside from its policies regarding CEO's of major sponsors, Augusta National will make no changes in its male-only membership policy. The perfect storm will have passed over Amen Corner and the waters will calm.

In case you have not followed the situation, here it is briefly:

As a private club Augusta National has chosen to be male-only which, by law it is permitted to do. Membership is by invitation-only. The club accepts no applications and is reported to have about 300 male members. Women may play the course and use the dining room, presumably accompanied by male members.

You may recall the 2002 Martha Burk challenge to Augusta as a "male-only" private club. Many readers may also remember the then-president of Augusta, Hootie Johnson, stating that women may become members "in due time," and his equally famous comment that it won't happen in response to a "bayonet charge" - code for "because of Martha Burk." Augusta firmly maintained and continues the privacy and gender-exclusivity of its membership policy.

However, in addition to its regular invites to potential members, which are secret and totally unpublicized, it has been the club's practice to invite the CEOs of its major sponsors to become members, a very nice gesture, indeed. The "major-sponsor-membership" is similar to special-honorary category. That is important to keep in mind.

There is nothing secret about the long-time major corporate sponsors of the Masters. The world knows that the CEOs of IBM, AT&T and Exxon Mobil have all been invited to become members when named to their leadership positions, although it is possible that they could have been invited regardless of their executive status.

The past four CEOs of IBM were invited to become members. They were sized for their green jackets, invited to members-only events and sat in on the closing ceremonies when the new Masters champion slipped into his new green jacket. And IBM is a very important sponsor because of its role in providing all of the technology for the tournament's operations.

So we have the perfect storm: A male-only membership policy and a female CEO of a major sponsor. Like the choices facing the captain of a boat caught in a storm, it's decision time.

I predict that Augusta will treat CEO Rometty without regard to her gender but, with all due respect to her position as CEO of a major sponsor, one of the world's most respected and successful corporations. As a woman, I am especially proud of her accomplishments.

It's reported that Rometty does play golf and, in one interview, reported that she plays "sparingly." It's my guess that she didn't get to the top hitting from the "tips" but because she has the intelligence and leadership skills of a great executive.

Rometty apparently prefers scuba-diving. I have scuba-dived and have no doubts that the calm and concentration required to dive will not only serve her well as CEO but also on the course, should she decide to play more golf in the future.

Why do I predict that Augusta National will extend the invitation to Rometty? The first reason is simple: she is the CEO of IBM. Like the game of golf itself, Augusta National lives by a code of honor. It has in the past invited IBM's male CEOs, and gender makes no difference in this special membership category. The downside of saying "a female CEO of IBM is not comparable to a male CEO" just would not be acceptable today. If Hootie Johnson was looking for his "due time," this is the time.

The harder question is whether Rometty will accept the invitation. Maybe she will punt with a "thank you, but no thank you; maybe next year" answer. She could arrange to be in some foreign country next week and have a perfectly good excuse to stay out of the fray.

She could also accept the invitation to be a member and still arrange to be away next week. That would avoid any photos of Rometty in her green jacket. But it could be awkward to have a senior IBM executive standing in for her at the closing televised ceremonies sitting next to the CEOs of AT&T and Exxon Mobil.

But, based on what I have read about her accomplishments, including her diversity initiatives over a 31-year career at IBM and early strategic decisions as CEO, I anticipate that she will embrace IBM's important sponsor presence at the Masters. She has to be thinking about what's best for her company.

And one final prediction: At the news conference Billy Payne - the current chairman of Augusta National and the Masters - holds on Wednesday, April 4th, he will surely be asked about Ginni Rometty. I expect that he will answer the question. It's my prediction that he will thank IBM for its sponsorship and add that Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, has become a member of Augusta National. And he will add "no further comment."

On Sunday, we all will know the 2012 Masters champion. I will be watching the final ceremony closely. And I'm hoping to see Ginni Rometty wearing a green jacket sitting among the honorees. For IBM, the Masters, Augusta National Golf Club and all of us who love the game, that's a win-win.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.