WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama believes women should be allowed to join the all-male Augusta National Golf Club, the White House said on Thursday, adding pressure on the exclusive 80-year-old organization to change its restrictive policy.
"His personal opinion is that women should be admitted," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, saying he had spoken to Obama about the issue.
"We are kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything," Carney said as the first round of the Masters tournament got under way at the Augusta club in Georgia.
The issue of whether women should be allowed to become members at the home of the Masters has been around for years. But it took on added significance after Ginni Rometty became chief executive officer of IBM in January. IBM, the world's largest technology services company, is a long-standing sponsor of the Masters and its past four CEO's have been granted membership to Augusta National. The club now faces a dilemma of whether to change its policy to allow Rometty to join or spurn one of its major sponsors.
Carney was asked whether Obama believed the club should open its ranks to women, especially given Rometty's position.
"It is obviously up to the club to decide, but his personal opinion is women should be admitted to the club," Carney said at the daily White House briefing. On the eve of the Masters, chairman Billy Payne was again pressed on whether the club would alter its policy. In keeping with the club's secretive traditions, he refused on Wednesday to provide a clear answer when asked repeatedly by the media, saying only that membership issues were not for public debate.
Augusta's invitation-only membership has been steeped in secrecy since the conservative club opened in 1932. Women are allowed to play the course if invited by a member but cannot become members themselves.
The club does not reveal its full list of members, believed to be around 300, although it is known that some of the powerful men from industry and finance, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are members.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Frances Kerry)