Condoleezza Rice among first women to join Augusta National golf club

The Augusta National golf club announced Monday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore are its newest members, breaking an eight-decade gender barrier that had been criticized by both presidential candidates.

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

Augusta National is one of the most prestigious clubs in the nation, hosting the annual Masters Tournament, the first of golf’s four major championships. Green blazers with the Augusta National logo are a famous symbol of membership, and one is awarded each year to the Masters winner.

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The Georgia golf club has been criticized for what some view as discriminatory membership practices. It did not admit its first black member until 1990, and it has enforced a men-only policy since opening in 1932, though women have been permitted to play the course as guests.

“I am delighted and honored to be a member of Augusta National Golf Club,” Rice said in a statement. “I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity.”

Moore, the Rainwater Inc. vice president for whom the University of South Carolina’s business school is named, said her new membership “represents a very happy and important occasion in [her] life.”

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney weighed in on the female membership debate before the Masters in April, with both candidates saying they believed the club should admit women.

The subject, which comes up before almost every Masters, was more pertinent this year because the new chief executive of IBM, a principal tournament sponsor, was a woman. Four previous IBM chief executives had been offered membership at Augusta National but Virginia Rometty, the latest, had not.

On Monday, Romney tweeted congratulations to Rice and Augusta National.