Fred S. Ridley was elected Saturday as president of the USGA, which sets the rules for golf in the United States and Canada and runs 13 national championships.
Ridley, a 51-year-old Tampa lawyer, belongs to Augusta National and Pine Valley, an exclusive club in New Jersey. Neither has female members, and Pine Valley does not allow women to play its top-rated course.
'If I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I hope people are not going to spend a lot of time focusing on it because it's just not that important to what I'm trying to do,' Ridley said.
Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, demanded Ridley explain how he can belong to all-male clubs, while leading an organization with anti-discriminatory policies.
'His membership in Augusta is particularly damaging to the credibility of the Girls Golf program, which the USGA co-sponsors with the LPGA,' Burk said in a statement. 'He is teaching girls that they can learn to play golf, but they will grow up to be second-class citizens in the sport.'
Ridley said he sees nothing inconsistent about his role with the USGA and his memberships.
'I feel that where I play golf really doesn't have anything to do or has any impact on me doing the best job I can for the USGA,' Ridley said.
One of the goals Ridley wants to achieve during his two one-year terms is to make golf more 'user friendly.'
'Golf is a very intimidating game, it's a hard game to learn,' Ridley said. 'I think the whole environment of entering the game, of being around people who've played it a lot, it's just hard to feel comfortable.
'I wish I had all the answers, but there's got to be a way to fix that.'
Ridley won the U.S. Amateur in 1975, the year after graduating from the University of Florida, where he played on the golf team. Yet he is the last amateur champion to forgo the professional ranks. He claimed years of losing to Gators teammates Gary Koch and Andy Bean taught him that his future was down a different path.
Still, Ridley is going to use his one-time exemption as a winner of the U.S. Amateur and play this year in the U.S. Senior Open.
When he joined the USGA's executive committee in 1994, Ridley was its youngest member. Since then, he has chaired the Championship Committee, the group responsible for the conduct of all USGA competitions.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.