By David Gold

Augusta National_27_AugustAugust 27 - Augusta National Golf Club is to admit women for the first time since it was established 80 years ago, with former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invited to be one of the first female members.

The illustrious Georgia-based club (pictured top), which hosts the Masters, one of golf's four Major tournaments, each year, will also welcome South Carolina financier Darla Moore onto its membership roster when the new season begins in October.

The move has come after a decade of pressure which began when activist Martha Burk, from the National Council of Women's Organisations, staged a protest in 2002.

Burk hailed the decision as a "milestone for women in business".

Former chairman Hootie Johnson refused to budge although he did concede women might one day be accepted.

Condoleezza Rice_27_AugustCondoleezza Rice has been invited to become one of Augusta National's first female members

Johnson was even willing to resist pressure despite the risk of losing valuable television sponsors for the Masters.

While women have been allowed to play the famous course as guests, the intervention of Virginia Rometty as chief executive of IBM, one of the event's key sponsors, increased pressure further on Augusta.

The 300-strong club only admitted its first black member in 1990 – so the decision to welcome Rice, the first black woman to be a Stanford provost and the first female African-American to hold the position of Secretary of State, has a particular significance.

The 57-year-old, who was recently appointed to the United States Golf Association's Nominating Committee, said she was "delighted and honoured" to be invited to join Augusta.

"I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity," she added.

"This is a joyous occasion," said Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, the former President and chief executive of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and Paralympics. 

"We enthusiastically welcome Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club.

Martha Burk_1_27_AugustActivist Martha Burk has hailed Augusta National's historic decision as a "milestone"

"These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf, and both are well known and respected by our membership.

"This is a significant and positive time in our club's history."

The move will also please the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which has admitted golf to the Olympic programme from the next Summer Games in Rio in four years' time.

Augusta's refusal to admit women is hitherto said to have been a stumbling block in golf's campaign to be included in the Olympics.

The decision has since led to a call from former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for another of the world's most influential golf clubs, the Royal & Ancient at St Andrews in Scotland, to follow suit and admit women.

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