Atlanta The push for female members at Augusta National Golf Club received its biggest boost yet Monday when the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee said he will work aggressively with other club members to admit women.
Lloyd Ward, one of a handful of black members at Augusta National, said he was "committed to breaking down barriers which exclude women from membership at Augusta in the weeks and months ahead."
Amid signs that some Augusta National members were backing away from the club's hard-line stand on the issue, the former president of Ford Motor Co. also said he thought there would be female members at the exclusive club that plays host to the Masters golf tournament.
"I think there will be at some time in the future," Harold "Red" Poling said from his suburban Detroit home.
He said he had "a lot of faith" in Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson. "Everyone would like to see issues such as this resolved," Poling added.
Ward made his comments in a letter to Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which is spearheading the drive to include women among Augusta National's 300 members.
It was the first time Ward had commented on the issue since saying in April he would work behind the scenes to allow women into the club, and it was the strongest public statement in support of female members by any member.
"I am working with others who are members of Augusta National Golf Club who share the belief that the organization should include women in its membership ranks," Ward wrote. "It is my intent to aggressively work for that reform."
Club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said Augusta National would have no comment on the issue, likely to be a matter of hot debate when the club reopens later this month after a summer shutdown in Augusta, Ga.
Burk, though, said the fact that some members are now speaking publicly means the argument over female members will only grow louder.
"I applaud their leadership," Burk said. "I believe others will join them and this will be resolved sooner rather than later."
Meanwhile, Darla Moore may just be the woman Hootie Johnson is looking for if Augusta National Golf Club decides to admit women. Moore is a multimillionaire financier with rich Southern roots and close ties to Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National.
The 48-year-old Moore grew up in Lake City, a rural town of 6,478 people about 160 miles northeast of the famed home of the Masters, and has returned here to make a home. Her name has been floated as a possible candidate to become the first female member of the club along with more recognizable figures such as golf great Nancy Lopez and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
"Everybody wants to talk about Augusta," Moore said Monday. "I think we have a whole lot more to worry about than this issue. We've got an unstable economy. We're getting ready to go to war. It's not on my radar screen."
Moore has made a name for herself as executive vice president of Rainwater Inc., one of the largest private investment firms in the United States.