Champions Tour stars applaud Augusta National’s change

Four prominent members of golf’s Champions Tour learned of Augusta National’s decision to admit two women as members just as they were about to announce a new tournament coming to Chicago.

All were delighted that the annual site of the Masters tournament was ending its all-male membership policy, and at least one wasn’t even surprised.

“I had heard through the grapevine, because I’m a past champion. I knew they were thinking about it,’’ said Fuzzy Zoeller, who won the Masters in his first appearance at Georgia’s Augusta National in 1979. “I’m very happy. This is 2012. Let’s get this thing moving forward.’’

But, Zoeller added, “there are private clubs that should be able to write their own rules.’’

Jeff Sluman, Hale Irwin and Chip Beck and Sluman were all familiar with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, one of the new Augusta National members. None knew the other, South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore. Rice has played in the pro-ams of the Champions Tour’s Regions Tradition event in Alabama.

“Condy loves golf,’’ said Sluman. The talk has been going on for awhile. I thought she might already be a member.’’

“What a sweet lady,’’ said Zoeller. “But congratulations to both of them.’’

“There’s no way golf is going to succeed without the women,’’ said Irwin. “We need them in golf. This is great.’’