By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Boycotts protesting the introduction of a new Georgia voting law could end up hurting the state's most vulnerable citizens, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the exclusive club on the eve of the Masters, Ridley indicated that it was full steam ahead for a tournament that is one of men's golf's four major championships, and arguably the most prestigious of all.
"I believe, as does everyone in our organisation, that the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society," Ridley told a news conference. "Nobody should be disadvantaged in exercising that right.
"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 neighbours here in Augusta who are the very focus of the positive difference we are trying to make."
Ridley was speaking after new voting legislation passed by the majority Republican Party in Georgia that critics say is aimed at making it harder for Black people and other minorities to vote.
The legislation prompted Major League Baseball to withdraw this year's All Star Game from Atlanta, but Ridley indicated it would be business as usual at the Masters, citing the club's commitment to helping the local community.
Ridley would not be drawn on his personal opinion of the new law.
"I don't think that my opinion on this legislation should shape the discussion," he said.
"I think there's a resolution, and 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 or us to make a proclamation on this, I just don't think that is going to be helpful to ultimately reaching a resolution."
Unlike the All Star Game and the NFL Super Bowl, the Masters is played at the same place every year, and moving it away from Augusta would effectively be the end of the tournament.
Even United States President Joe Biden, who approved the moving of baseball's All Star Game out of Georgia after the new voting legislation was passed, did not call for the Masters to follow suit.
"I think that's up to the Masters," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Augusta National has pumped money into the local community in recent years.
In November it announced a $10 million donation with its corporate partners to help revitalize Augusta's struggling urban neighbourhoods and it gave $2 million to help with coronavirus vaccination efforts in the city.
Augusta National does not release details of its membership, but it is believed to have about 300 members.
The club, which opened in 1932, did not have a Black member until 1990, and had no female member until 2012.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)