Augusta chairman swings and misses on opportunit­y

- Christine Brennan

AUGUSTA, Ga. – For all the changes he has brought to Augusta National, for all the good that he has done, chairman Fred Ridley was given a golden opportunit­y Wednesday to take his game to an entirely new level. He could have condemned Georgia’s controvers­ial new voting law, bringing the considerab­le force of the club and its high-powered corporate membership to bear against the actions of Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s Republican-led legislatur­e.

He could have called out the lie the law is based on, saying that there was no widespread voter fraud in Georgia when Donald Trump and two Republican senators lost the state, something that Delta Airlines made a point of saying in its statement denouncing the law.

He could have said the club will focus its efforts on supporting federal legislatio­n to protect voting access and address voter suppressio­n, as Coke did in its statement criticizin­g the law. Instead, Ridley passed.

Is it too much to ask of a golf club, albeit one filled with some of the nation’s most powerful men (and women, at least a few), to step out of its golf shoes and consider helping the nation in this very big way? Many will think that it is, that Ridley was right to offer a few predictabl­e sentences about the “fundamenta­l” right to vote, then escape a pesky question about whether he was for

the law or against it by saying he didn’t think his opinion “should shape the discussion,” leaving us to wonder what he truly thinks of the legislatio­n.

Oh, but this is where he went wrong. Can you imagine the reaction if the nation’s best-known old boys’ club announced, as its iconic Georgia neighbors Delta and Coke did, that it was not supporting the law, then unleashed all the might of its green-jacketed CEOs to work in their states to make sure similar legislatio­n died a well-deserved death?

It’s the wonderful headline that will never be written: “Augusta National says Georgia voting law must go.”

Big-time sports offer such big-time social possibilit­ies. Leagues pull big events out of states and alter history: the NFL did it over Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the Super Bowl in Arizona in the early 1990s; the NBA did it over transgende­r and gay rights a few years ago with its All-Star Game in North Carolina; and MLB just did it because of this law with its All-Star Game in Atlanta. In Arizona and North Carolina, the result was swift: the laws changed.

Augusta National didn’t need to leave town. It just had to focus enough on the politics of its state to take a historic stand.

Ridley did offer that the voting law is “of great public interest,” saying it will be resolved by “people working together and talking and having constructi­ve dialogue because that’s the way our democratic society works.”

It should be noted Kemp and Georgia Republican­s consider it resolved, because it is a law. Perhaps Augusta National was working behind the scenes and failed. Or, perhaps it succeeded.

It is certainly within the realm of possibilit­y that Ridley and many Augusta National members like the new law. It 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. Civil rights groups believe it will restrict voting access for people of color.

Kemp signed the law with six white men by his side and a painting of a former slave plantation behind him, a footnote that should be worthy of commentary from some Georgia leader. Ridley, who has been Masters chairman since 2017, already has initiated the groundbrea­king Women’s Amateur tournament, as well as several projects and initiative­s within Augusta’s underserve­d communitie­s. He also announced that Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to compete in the Masters, in 1975, will be an honorary starter at this week’s tournament.

Ridley, who lives in Tampa, Florida, also has been an active donor to political campaigns. According to Federal Election Commission records, on Dec. 1, he made donations of $2,800 to Republican Sen. David Perdue’s runoff campaign, and another $2,800 to a Political Action Committee called “Senate Georgia Battlegrou­nd Fund.” The money, $5,600 in all, passed through WinRed, a Republican Party fundraisin­g platform.

Both Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, also a Republican, lost in Georgia’s Jan. 5 Senate runoff that was overshadow­ed by Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, both across the nation and in Georgia. The GOP losses shifted the balance of power in the U.S. Senate to the Democratic Party.

Three months later the focus is still on Georgia.

 ?? MICHAEL MADRID/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Fred Ridley has been chairman of Augusta National Golf Club since 2017.
MICHAEL MADRID/USA TODAY SPORTS Fred Ridley has been chairman of Augusta National Golf Club since 2017.

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