August 21, 2012 was an important day for women.

This was the day the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters Tournament, finally ended its 80-year-long, men-only policy by admitting two women members – Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and Darla Moore, a financier and former banking executive.

Though it may read as a small triumph, it is a triumph for women, nonetheless.

Golf: The Game of the Power Players

It’s no secret that golf and business go hand-in-hand in America. When it comes to corporate business culture, golf courses are power centers where important relationships are built, promotions are decided, and deals are done. A woman denied access to these networking opportunities could also be denied access to the power brokers capable of advancing her career.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen, the Executive-in-Residence at the Boston College Center for Work & Family, recently contributed a piece to the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Why Women at Augusta Really Are a Big Deal.” In it, she writes:

“Female leaders need to make sure they’re spending as much time as their male counterparts building relationships with the people who can make a difference in their careers. And when entrance to those gathering places are blocked (whether overtly or in a more subtle way), they need to push for change.

“Many years ago, I sat in a board of directors meeting, surrounded by male colleagues. During a break, the men began discussing their summer plans, which included detailed conversation about their boats, their golf games, and their travel. As they were innocently making their social plans, I realized that those plans would also create the foundation for future dealings. That was the first time I saw the clear link between the language of leisure and the language of business.”

An Informal Business Network

According to a Catalyst report, 46% of women surveyed listed “exclusion from informal networks” as one of their biggest barriers to career advancement. Golf was one of the most common informal networks cited by these women as a place of exclusion.

Leslie Andrews, author of Even Par: How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business, believes that women can use golf to get into the corner office. In a blog post for Forbes, Andrews writes:

“The business benefits of golf — primarily the ability to develop relationships and to be where decisions are made — are so powerful that by allowing themselves to be excluded, women are doing themselves a disservice.”

When Billy Payne, the current chairman of Augusta, announced the addition of Rice and Moore among its elite membership, which also includes Warren Buffett, Pete Coors, and T. Boone Pickens, he said, “This is a joyous occasion.”

I couldn’t agree more. After all, Augusta is not simply a golf club. It is also a hub for the nation’s power players, frequented by the senior executives of some of America’s biggest corporations.

Here’s hoping Rice and Moore are only the first of many women to receive Augusta’s famous green jacket.

Seeing that Augusta has traditionally offered membership to IBM’s CEO because the company is one of the Masters Tournament’s principal sponsors, let’s hope Ginni Rometty is next in line.

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