AUGUSTA, Ga. – As expected, the pre-tournament talk at Augusta National this week hasn’t been all golf.
Georgia’s new voting bill, SB202, was passed last month with a party-line vote, and it's being criticized by Democrats who claim the legislation is an act of voter suppression – with President Joe Biden even comparing the laws to the Jim Crow era – and praised by Republicans who say it’s necessary after the state’s local election officials were overwhelmed by record turnout, including an large increase in mail-in ballots, in last year’s presidential election and subsequent Senate runoffs.
Just days after the MLB moved its All-Star Game out of Atlanta this summer and other Georgia-based corporations have spoken out on the matter, Masters competitors and Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley were among those to provide comment, though only one player, Cameron Champ, one of the few Black players on the PGA Tour, specifically took a stance on the new laws.
“I think a lot of people are very disappointed to see that,” Champ told reporters on Tuesday. “As you can tell, it really targets certain Black communities and makes it harder to vote, which, to me, it's everyone's right to vote. For me to see that, it's very shocking. Obviously, with MLB and what they did and moving the All-Star Game was a big statement. I know there's a bunch of other organizations and companies that have moved things. Again, this is a prestigious event, and I know there's a lot going on with it and the people involved with it.
“But, again, yeah, it was definitely a little bit frustrating to see that. This week I'll definitely be supporting doing some things throughout the week.”
Ridley, speaking on Wednesday in the press center, would not comment on whether he supports the bill or not.
"I believe, as does everyone in our organization, that the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society," Ridley said in his opening remarks. "No one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right, and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process. This is fundamental to who we are as a people. 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. 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."
Ground broke Tuesday morning on a new community center and Boys and Girls Club regional headquarters in the Harrisburg neighborhood, about 3 miles from Augusta National. The project is phase one in a $10 million, multi-year initiative called the HUB for Community Innovation, which is funded by Augusta National and other partners, including AT&T, Bank of America and IBM, and designed to revitalize the Harrisburg and Laney Walker neighborhoods.
"It reminded us that our mission to serve Augusta and its citizens is where we can and will make the greatest impact," Ridley added.
Pressed to take a stance on the voting bill, Ridley declined, saying he doesn't believe his opinion on the law should "shape the discussion."
"As I stated in my previous comments, I believe and I am confident that every member of this club believes that voting is an essential fundamental right in our society and, as I stated, that anything that disadvantages anyone to vote is wrong and should be addressed. I'm not going to speak to the specifics of the law, but ... 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. And while 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.
"And so we would like to encourage people to talk, to communicate, to let the democratic process work. And hopefully, these fundamentals that I've stated are so important to us and I think everyone in this room, can be achieved."
While other players were asked questions about the bill, most of them chose not to elaborate much. Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland and a South Florida resident, perhaps gave the best of those answers.
“I have to be respectful and somewhat careful what I say because I'm not a citizen of this country, but I certainly think all great countries and democracies are built on equal voting rights and everyone being able to get to the ballot boxes as easily as possible,” McIlroy said. “I'm all for getting people to get out and vote and to have a great democracy, and I've chosen to live in this country because I believe this country is the best country in the world. You know, America is the land of opportunity and it's the American dream. You work hard; you get rewarded. So, I believe in all of that stuff.”