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Opinion: Pressure lands on Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley as Georgia's voting law scrutinized

Christine Brennan, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Controversy has arrived once again at the doorstep of Augusta National Golf Club. This most mysterious and beautiful sports venue, fashioned as an oasis representing a simpler time, has for decades tried to shield itself from the pressures and politics of current-day Americana.

Mostly, it has succeeded. When the real world demanded more, the club acquiesced, eventually. There are Black members now, and women, but not many. This is still almost exclusively a white man’s playground, which makes the confluence of events at this moment in the state in which it is located all the more fascinating.

Eleven days ago, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a sweeping Republican-sponsored voter suppression bill that includes new restrictions on voting by mail, greater GOP legislative control over state and county election officials and a prohibition against outside groups giving food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

The bill, which civil rights groups believe will restrict voting access for people of color, is rooted in former President Trump’s notoriously false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, both across the nation and in Georgia. Not insignificant to this conversation is the fact that President Biden won Georgia, while both of the state’s Republican-held U.S. Senate seats were won by Democrats.

Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament poses with champion Tsubasa Kajitani of Okayama, Japan, after the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament poses with champion Tsubasa Kajitani of Okayama, Japan, after the Augusta National Women's Amateur.

Kemp signed the law March 25 with six white men by his side and a painting of a former slave plantation behind him.

Little more than a week later, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the 2021 All-Star Game was being moved out of Atlanta. The reason? The new Georgia law.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said in a statement.

His momentous decision and its timing right before the next big sports event in the state immediately put Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley on the clock. (In a plot twist few probably saw coming, Manfred also happens to be a member of Augusta National.)

So what will Ridley do? There have been calls to move the Masters out of Georgia, but that’s not happening. Of course it isn't. The Masters and Augusta National are synonymous. If you move the Masters out of Georgia, it’s no longer the Masters.

The pressure on Ridley is far more nuanced. He speaks Wednesday at his annual chairman’s news conference where he will be expected to discuss what he and the club think about this law, and what they will do about it, if anything.

Ringing the room will be dozens of green-jacketed Augusta National members, many of them titans of American industry, including some of the most powerful people in Georgia. If they had wanted to, they most likely could have convinced Kemp to not sign that law. Whether that thought even crossed their minds is debatable; one has to presume that many of them voted for Trump. Perhaps they even like the law.

Ridley will let us know. He has followed the lead of former chairman Billy Payne, who brought in the club’s first two women members in 2012 and started a kids’ competition for both boys and girls in 2013, by bringing slow but steady change to the place. Some of us never believed they would hold a women’s tournament at Augusta National; the second installment of their Women’s Amateur was just held on Saturday.

Not a year goes by without Ridley talking about issues of diversity and inclusion in golf, topics that are essential to the game’s demographic and economic future. Yet, while practically every other sport has undergone a reckoning over the last year in the wake of the death of George Floyd, golf remains predictably untouched by American cultural and racial change.

Golf and social justice have a most interesting relationship. Basically, they don’t have one. Ridley is one of the very few people who can do something about that, starting this Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Masters puts Augusta National's Fred Ridley on clock over voting law