Los Angeles - Augusta National, home of the Masters golf tournament, said on Monday the exclusive club has admitted the first women members in its 80-year history.
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore have accepted invitations to join the club in Augusta, Georgia, chairperson Billy Payne said.
"This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club," Payne said.
Augusta National has come under increasing pressure to admit women members, with the question of the exclusive policy coming up each year when the club hosts the first major golf tournament of the year, the Masters.
The issue first came to a head in 2003 when Martha Burk, a leader in the National Council of Women's Organizations, conducted a rally across the street from Augusta National, where the first black member was inducted in 1990.
Hootie Johnson, Augusta National's chairperson in 2003, had gone so far as to release broadcast sponsors from their advertising commitments when Burk threatened to target them for backing the club's men-only policy as discrimination.
In April Payne himself refused to discuss the issue when it was raised in the days before the Masters, but said in a statement on Monday that the process for admitting Rice and Moore had been the same as for any other members.
"Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time," Payne said. "The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different.
"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."