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Masters chair: Won't harm Augusta with boycott

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Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 07 April 2021 11:59

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Saying no one should be disadvantaged in their ability to vote, Augusta National and Masters chairman Fred Ridley would not go so far as to condemn the controversial Georgia voting law that led Major League Baseball to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta and other corporations to criticize the legislation.

As part of his annual pre-tournament news conference Wednesday at Augusta National, Ridley said "the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society. No one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right, and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process. This is fundamental to who we are as a people.

"We realize that views and opinions on this law differ, and there have been calls for boycotts and other punitive measures. 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 are trying to make."

The 98-page measure was signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25. Opponents of the law say it will, among other things, restrict voting access, especially for people of color.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who last week announced that the All-Star Game would be relocated from Georgia due to the voter law, is an Augusta National member. Ridley was not asked about baseball's stance, and when asked for his personal view, he said it should not shape the discussion.

"I believe and I am confident that every member of this club believes that voting is an essential fundamental right in our society and that -- as I stated, that anything that disadvantages anyone to vote is wrong and should be addressed," Ridley said. "I'm not going to speak to the specifics of the law, but I do know that ... 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 is going to be helpful to ultimately reaching a resolution."

According to Federal Election Commission records, Ridley made donations on Dec. 1 of $2,800 to "Perdue for Senate," $2,800 to the "Senate Georgia Battleground Fund" and $5,600 to WinRed, a Republican Party fundraising platform. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were Georgia Republican senators who each lost in a Jan. 5 runoff that saw the majority in the U.S. Senate switch to the Democratic Party. Georgia was also narrowly won by President Joe Biden in November amid voter fraud allegations by then-President Donald Trump that were not substantiated.

Ridley, who has served as Masters chairman since replacing Billy Payne in 2017, did tout the fact that the Masters would be honoring Lee Elder on Thursday morning as an honorary starter. Elder was the first Black golfer to compete in the Masters in 1975. He will kick off the tournament along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Elder "bravely broke barriers as his name was announced on the first tee," Ridley said. "And I cannot wait to have the honor of introducing Lee and celebrating his inspiring legacy with our patrons and viewers worldwide."

Augusta National has committed to endowing two scholarships in Elder's name to the golf programs at Paine College in Augusta, a predominantly Black school. As part of that, the club has pledged to start from scratch a women's golf program at whatever cost necessary.

Cameron Champ is the only Black player in the 88-player Masters field this week. He has done his own work to support predominantly Black college golf and said he was disappointed by the new Georgia voting law.

"As you can tell, it really targets certain Black communities and makes it harder to vote, which to me is everyone's right to vote," Champ said, speaking before Ridley's news conference. "For me to see that, it's very shocking. Obviously with what MLB and what they did in moving the All-Star Game was a big statement. I know there's a bunch of other organizations and companies that have moved things.

"This is a prestigious event, and I know there's a lot going on with it and people involved with it. It was a bit frustrating to see that. This week I'll definitely be supporting some things throughout the week."

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