AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Despite multiple attempts by the media during his annual Masters eve press conference, Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne didn't offer much regarding the recent focus on the club's all-male membership.
It's been nine years since Martha Burk led a protest during Masters week because Augusta National has no female members. The issue has returned, mainly because the new CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty, is female. The last four people who have held that position -- all men -- have become members at Augusta National. IBM has been a longtime corporate sponsor of the Masters.
Three questions in, Payne was asked if he ever foresees a day when the club will have a female member.
"Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement," Payne said.
When asked a few minutes later about why the club wouldn't consider membership for Rometty, Payne stood his ground.
"I guess two reasons: One, we don't talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question," he said.
Payne, who was named chairman in 2006, received numerous other questions on the issue: If Augusta National wants to help with growing the game, why does it exclude women from joining? As a grandfather, what discussions does he have with his granddaughters about the issue?
It grew slightly contentious when the questions persisted.
Q: Mr. Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?
Payne: Once again, that deals with a membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it.
Q: No, it doesn't.
Q: Seems like a mixed message, Billy, is what he's saying. You're throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there's still a perception that certain people are excluded.
Payne: That is a membership issue that I'm not going to ... thank you for your --
Q: It sends --
Payne: Thank you.
Q: It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club; it's not a membership question.
Payne: Thank you for your question, sir.