Everyone knows Condi Rice, but who’s Darla Moore, the other woman who broke Augusta’s grass ceiling?

April 3, 2013

This will be the first Masters in which Augusta National can trumpet female members, but the host club’s obsession with secrecy remains unchanged: Neither financier Darla Moore nor Condoleeza Rice, the former Secretary of State, have been made available for interviews. Augusta National speaks with one voice, that of the chairman, and as always it is baritone. But 10 years ago I had a long, enlightening phone conversation with Moore when I was researching the book that became The Battle for Augusta National. I spent a lot of time in Augusta and South Carolina back then, and Moore’s name kept popping up. She was the best guess to be Augusta National’s first female member, if and when the club saw the light.

I remember Moore as a conspiratorial storyteller with a contagious laugh and a Southern accent. Her family’s history with then Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson goes back to 1948, when Moore’s father, Eugene, was the captain of Clemson’s undefeated football team. That year Johnson was a senior in high school, and Eugene Moore was sent to the hamlet of Greenwood to recruit Johnson. “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 of Fortune with the tagline The Toughest Babe in the Business. 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. Moore picked up the tale:

“So in the fall of ’97, I get an urgent call from Hugh McColl”—a friend of Hootie’s and a fellow Augusta National member—“and he flew out to meet me at some backwater restaurant. I thought he wanted to sell me some real estate or somesuch. When he walked in, he introduced me to Hootie, and I went cuh-razy. 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?’ ”

That is how the Moore School of Business was born—to the tune of $25 million.

Moore and Rice, both 58, 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 become 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 J.P. Morgan and the board of directors for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Hospital Corporation of America, The South Financial Group and MPS Group.

Given her ties to Johnson, Moore had long wondered if she might someday be shopping for the right accessories to go with a green jacket. “I asked Hootie about it,” 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. 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.”

When I pressed Moore as to whether she’d want to be Augusta National’s first female member, given the inevitable fuss, she cooed, “I have been told I look good in green.”