Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley touts work in community as answer to boycott question

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Brian Mull, Special to The Greenville News
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club doesn’t intend to make a proclamation on the Georgia Voting Law, chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday morning in his annual State of the Masters address.

Responding to calls for a boycott or to follow the recent decisions of certain corporations and Major League Baseball, Ridley said he and everyone at Augusta National believe the right to vote is fundamental to a democratic society, no one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process.

“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,” Ridley said. “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.”

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Ridley pointed to Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the community center and Boys & Girls Club headquarters in the Laney Walker and Harrisburg communities as a “joyous occasion.” Augusta National and corporate partners pledged $10 million to the revitalization project in the fall.

“It reminded us that our mission to serve Augusta and its citizens is where we can and will make the greatest impact,” Ridley said. “I’m not going to speak to the specifics of the law, but I do know that the best way for – 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.”

Ridley also fielded questions about the USGA’s recent distance report, the Champions Dinner and the format of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. He described the course as the best he’s seen it in 20 years as a member, praising the current firm, fast conditions ahead of Thursday’s opening round of the Masters Tournament.

The majority of his comments focused on Augusta National’s impact on the community.

Augusta National donated $2 million and the use of club-owned property on Washington Road, in the old SteinMart shopping center, to serve as an Augusta University Healthcare vaccination center. More than 20,000 residents have been vaccinated at the facility, Ridley said. The funding has also supported local pop-up clinics and mobile vaccination units in underserved communities.

Ridley praised the work of the local medical community and health care providers, some of whom have been provided badges to attend this year’s tournament.

Augusta National hopes to return to a full complement of patrons in 2022. Ridley emphasized new initiatives designed to enhance the experience for fans watching from home. For the second consecutive Masters, fans can watch every shot of their favorite golfers on the tournament website and for the first time can compete against family and friends in a Masters fantasy game, also available on the tournament website and official app.

In addition, Ridley announced a partnership with EA Sports for a new video game, The Road To the Masters, expected to debut prior to next year’s tournament. All proceeds from the video game will go to the Masters Tournament Foundation to help grow golf in the United States and around the globe.

Along those lines, Ridley announced the Latin America Amateur Championship is set to return in January 2022 after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19. He praised the accelerating quality of play and depth of talent produced by the region, pointing to the success of Masters participants Joaquin Niemann, the 2018 champion in his native Chile, and Colombia’s Sebastian Muñoz, who tied for 19th in the 2020 Masters.

The club’s new television command center on Washington Road is operating. Domestic broadcast partners CBS and ESPN are housed there this year, with the international broadcasters and the Masters Digital team scheduled to join them for the 2022 Masters.

Addressing a question about whether Augusta National would ever pursue providing housing to Masters participants, Ridley joked that he wasn’t sure the club could meet the players’ standards. Ridley played the course with defending champion Dustin Johnson last week. Johnson stayed in a 16-bedroom house in the area on his way to a record-setting victory last fall.

“I mean, that’s an issue, certainly, that we think about, and we have addressed in some respect with respect to our volunteer staff,” Ridley said. “You know, I think that would be – never take anything off the table, but I guess my question would be, you know, whether or not there’s really demand for it. But I mean, we try to get better every year, and we don’t really take anything off the table but that’s not one that I’ve given a lot of thought to.”

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