In 2003 I was researching the book that became "The Battle For Augusta National." It offers a revisionist history of the club and chronicles the membership controversy that reached its denouement on Monday, when Augusta National announced that Darla Moore, 58, and Condoleezza Rice, 57, had become the club's first female members.
Nine years ago I spent a lot of time in South Carolina, Hootie Johnson's ancestral homeland. In talking with the state's power brokers, and in conversations with a handful of Augusta National members, one name kept popping up: Darla Moore. She was a symbol of Hootie's progressive past and his ongoing stubbornness. She was also the educated guess to be Augusta National's first female member, if and when the club finally saw the light.
(Related Article: Bamberger: At last, Augusta does the right thing)
Back in '03 I reached Moore by phone. She was great fun to chat with -- a conspiratorial storyteller with a contagious laugh and an adorable Southern accent. It turns out that her family's history with Hootie went back to 1948, when Moore's father, Eugene, was the captain of Clemson's undefeated football team. That year Hootie Johnson was a senior in high school, and Eugene Moore was sent to recruit Johnson, who was once described in his hometown newspaper as a "crazy-legged tailback" and "the blond wheelhorse of the Emerald backfield." Johnson wound up falling into the clutches of the South Carolina Gamecocks. "Daddy failed miserably, and I heard about it all my life," Darla said. "Hootie became a legend in our house."
Decades later Johnson was a South Carolina kingmaker and Moore had become a Wall Street star, landing on the cover Fortune with tagline "The Toughest Babe in the Business." (Moore has cheekbones Michelle Pfeiffer would kill for.) For years Johnson was on the board of trustees at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., an all-female university from which one of his daughters graduated. He had gotten it into his head that South Carolina should become the first university in the country with a business school named after a woman. Here Moore picked up the tale:
“So in the fall of '97, I get an urgent call from Hugh McColl” -- a Friend of Hootie and a fellow Augusta National member -- "and he flew out in a private plane to meet me at some backwater restaurant in Florence [South Carolina], near the booming metropolis of 6,000 where I make my home. I thought he wanted to sell me some real estate or somesuch. When he walked in he introduced me to Hootie, and I went crazy. I was thuh-rilled to death, just charmed out of my socks. Then the ball drops. Hootie begins in that accent of his: 'Dah-luh, this is what we want to get done…' Hootie's point was that it was a statement that needed to be made, that a female from the rural deep South could succeed in big business. Finally, I said, 'Hootie, how much might this privilege cost me?' "
Twenty five million dollars later, the Moore School of Business was born.
Both Moore and Rice fit the profile of the traditional Augusta National member: successful, Southern, discreet. Rice is better known because of her political career, but it's easy to imagine that Moore will be a bigger force within the club because she's from the same corporate world as most of her fellow members, having served on the national advisory board of JP Morgan and the board of directors for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Hospital Corporation of America, The South Financial Group, and MPS Group. Rice is single and her private life has been the source of much conjecture, but Moore's husband fits the Augusta National profile: Richard Rainwater is a billionaire investor and noted golf junkie with a vanity ownership stake in the Pebble Beach Company. Long before Moore became a member, she and her husband were regular guests of Hootie's at Augusta National, though Fortune reported last year that Rainwater is suffering a rare, degenerative brain disease.
(Related Article: Condoleezza Rice's interview from the October 2010 issue of Golf Magazine)
Given her close ties to Johnson, Moore had long wondered if she might someday have to find the right accessories to go with a green jacket.
"I asked Hootie about it once," said Moore, who is reputed to have a nice golf swing but an erratic short game. "This was before I had had any real exposure to Augusta -- I knew very little about its mystique, although that's changed. Anyway, I said, 'Hootie, how does one get to be a member?' And he said, 'You don't ask.' Oh, I got it. End of conversation.”
Now Moore will forever be part of Augusta National's story. She may be a trailblazer for women, but it's clear Moore will have no trouble fitting in with the good ol' boys and masters of the universe who populate her new golf club.