Club's Coed Controversy Moves From Amen Corner to Pennsylvania Avenue

It is called a tradition unlike any other and Thursday, the Masters golf tournament and its home course, the Augusta National Golf Club, made it onto a political stage unlike any other as the club's exclusion of female members was a topic of discussion for both President Obama's spokesman and the GOP frontrunner seeking the White House.

The private club has never admitted women members and though the policy has been protested in the past, the controversy died down in recent years. Typically the chief executives of companies that sponsor The Masters, the first of professional golf's major tournaments, gain membership to Augusta National. This year IBM is a sponsor but its female CEO Virginia Rometty hasn't been offered a spot.

With the tournament kicking off Thursday, reporters at the daily briefing asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney whether the president believes Rometty should be admitted.

"Well, the president's answer to this question is yes," Carney said. "He believes -- his personal opinion is that women should be admitted to the club."

Carney wouldn't say whether the president, an avid golfer who has hit the links 93 times since becoming president, would play at a club that excluded women.

"I didn't have that conversation with him," he admitted. But Carney insisted the president disagrees with the club's stance against female members. "[H]e believes Augusta should admit women. You know, we're kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything," Carney said.

Mr. Obama has been criticized in the past for playing basketball and golf with mostly males but in October of 2009 his domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes became the first female to join him on a golf outing at Andrews Air Force Base.

Augusta National Golf Club had no comment on the president's opinion of its policy toward women members and the first round of The Masters was played as usual.

GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney also weighed in on the club's co-ed controversy Thursday.

"I'm not a member of Augusta," Romney said after a campaign event in Pennsylvania. "I don't know if I would qualify - my golf game is not that good but certainly if I were a member and ... if I could run Augusta which isn't likely to happen, of course I'd have women in Augusta, sure."

Late Thursday, the wife of Romney's fellow candidate Newt Gingrich used Twitter to say she would like to be a member of the club.

"I'm a golfer and I'd love to belong to #Augusta," Callista Gingrich tweeted.