Augusta chairman Ridley urges discussion but silent on vote law

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Augusta National Golf Club supports voting rights without obstacles, chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday, but he won't take a position on Georgia's controversial new voting law.

Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta last week because of the law, which many feel restricts voting opportunities for African Americans, and some want the Masters -- played annually at Augusta National -- and other golf events to depart the state as well.

"I'm confident that every member of this club believes that voting is an essential fundamental right in our society and anything that disadvantages anyone to vote is wrong and should be addressed," Ridley said.

"We would like to encourage people to talk, to communicate, to let the democratic process work. And hopefully, these fundamentals that I've stated are so important to us, and I think everyone in this room, can be achieved."

While wanting to end voting obstacles, Ridley also supported a concern of the law's backers, saying, "it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process."

Ridley called for greater dialogue to resolve the matter, but didn't want to inject the club or his opinions on the law into the mix.

"I don't think that my opinion on this legislation should shape the discussion," Ridley said.

"I'm not going to speak to the specifics of the law but I think there's a resolution and I think that resolution is going to be based on people working together and talking and having constructive dialogue because that's the way our democratic society works.

"And while I know you would like for us to make a proclamation on this, I just don't think that's going to be helpful to ultimately reaching a resolution."

Augusta National, which welcomed its first Black member in 1990 and first women members in 2012, has staged the Masters every year since 1934, part of its success being the tradition of testing golf's best on the same course over generations.

US President Joe Biden, asked if the Masters should move from Georgia, replied, "That's up to the Masters," and noted how losing such major events hurts the pocketbooks of many of the workers also impacted by the voter law, a point Ridley also made.

"We realize that views and opinions on this law differ, and there have been calls for boycotts and other punitive measures," he said.

"Unfortunately, those actions often impose the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable in our society. And in this case, that includes our friends and neighbors here in Augusta who are the very focus of the positive difference we're trying to make."

Ridley had noted a $10 million club effort to support redevelopment of two Augusta neighborhoods with youth centers and health care facilities and the donation of club property and financial support for a Covid-19 vaccination center on adjacent Washington Road.

"Our mission to serve Augusta and its citizens is where we can and will make the greatest impact," Ridley said.

- No spectator numbers -

On other matters, Ridley did not reveal figures for the "limited" number of spectators allowed at this year's Masters, the first fans to attend a major since 2019 due to Covid-19 restrictions, or even how reduced the number is from normal levels.

"I wouldn't speak to percentages," Ridley said. "It clearly is a limited number.

"We backed into a percentage based on advice we were getting from medical experts and other authorities. The key was how many people could we have on the grounds and still safely conduct the tournament."

Augusta National requires face masks and social distancing "when it's practical".

When it came to deciding who would receive the prized tickets, Ridley said every traditional group of ticket holders were represented in those distributed as well as local health care workers.

"We're optimistic conditions will continue to improve," Ridley said. "We look forward next year to the full roars that have become a part of Masters history."