AUGUSTA, Ga. — While a tempest brews outside Magnolia Lane over Georgia’s voting rights law, Augusta National would prefer to keep the focus on blooming azaleas, pimento cheese sandwiches and tricky greens.
That strategy has served the home of the Masters well in previous debates over efforts to keep out Black and female members.
So, it was no surprise when Chairman Fred Ridley played through any attempt Wednesday to ensnare his club in another contentious issue.
“We realize that views and opinions on this law differ, and there have been calls for boycotts and other punitive measures,” Ridley said during his annual State of the Masters news conference on the eve of the opening round. “Unfortunately, those actions often impose the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable in our society."
There was never any doubt Augusta National would take a different path than Major League Baseball, which yanked this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to show its displeasure with new voting restrictions that were signed into law two weeks ago by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Opponents say the law is designed to reduce the electoral power of people of color after a record turnout last November, fueled by absentee and early voting, led to Joe Biden becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to carry the Peach State. Then, in a January runoff election, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff unseated a pair of GOP incumbents in Georgia to effectively swing the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Supporters of the law, including Kemp, have said it's nothing more than an attempt to preserve electoral integrity on the heels of baseless claims by Donald Trump that the presidency was stolen from him by fraudulent votes.
“I believe, as does everyone in our organization, that the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society," Ridley said. “No one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right, and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process."
When asked bluntly if he supported or opposed the new law, Ridley laid up.
“I don’t think that my opinion on this legislation should shape the discussion,” he said. “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.”
Ridley's stance was very much in keeping with the club’s history on other racial and social matters.
For decades, Augusta National had no black members. It was only in 1975 that Lee Elder became the first Black player to be invited to the Masters. Finally, after protests erupted over the 1990 PGA Championship being held at all-white Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, the home of the Masters quietly admitted its first black member, television executive Ron Townsend.
More recently, the club steadfastly rebuffed calls to allow female members. Former chairman Hootie Johnson said the club would make such as decision on its terms, “not at the point of bayonet.” A decade later, Augusta National let in its first female members, including one-time Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Again, there was little fanfare about the decision.