Less than a week after Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new voting law, the prestigious Masters golf tournament will tee off Thursday in the Peach State.
But the controversial legislation still looms large over the event.
What You Need To Know
- As critics have applied pressure to the business and sports worlds in a bid to undo Georgia's voting law, the Masters has withstood calls for a boycott or relocation
- Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, broke his silence Wednesday about the tournament being swept up in the firestorm but did not directly criticize the legislation
- He added that he believes moving the tournament would have imposed “the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable in our society, and, in this case, that includes our friends and neighbors here in Augusta”
- Some Masters players spoke out against the law Tuesday, including Cameron Champ, who said he thinks Augusta National should take a stronger stand against it
As critics have applied pressure to the business and sports worlds in a bid to undo the law, the Masters has withstood calls for a boycott or relocation.
Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the 87-year-old tournament, broke his silence Wednesday about the tournament being swept up in the firestorm but did not directly criticize the legislation.
“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. It is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process.”
Ridley would not say how he personally felt about the voting law.
“I don’t think that my opinion on this legislation should shape discussion,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s going to be helpful to ultimately reaching a resolution.”
He added that he believes moving the tournament would have imposed “the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable in our society, and, in this case, that includes our friends and neighbors here in Augusta.” The event’s economic impact was believed to exceed $100 million before the pandemic.
The National Black Justice Coalition was among those calling for the Masters to be relocated.
"Professional golf should not reward Georgia’s attacks on democracy and voting rights with the millions of dollars in revenue that the tournament generates and the prestige it brings to the State," David Johns, the civil rights group's executive director, said in a statement last month. "We all must act to protect our democracy and the right to vote.”
Georgia Republicans who passed the voting legislation argue it will strengthen election security. But critics have blasted it as a blatant attempt to suppress left-leaning voters after Democrats won in Georgia in the presidential election and two U.S. Senate races, and a reaction to former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
The law adds a photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail, cuts the amount of time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed. It also bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials while curtailing the power of the secretary of state as Georgia’s chief elections officer.
Major League Baseball announced Tuesday it will now play its All-Star Game in Denver. Georgia-based corporations such as Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola have also voiced opposition to the voting legislation.
President Joe Biden, who has called the law “Jim Crow on steroids,” has praised such moves, but he was more neutral when asked Tuesday if he thinks the Masters should have been moved out of Georgia.
“I think that’s up to the Masters,” he said.
Some Masters players spoke out against the law Tuesday.
"This voter stuff and voters for American citizens is very important," said Collin Morikawa, last year’s PGA Championship winner. “I think that's the topic we should all be talking about. We shouldn't be talking about whether we're here or not.”
Cameron Champ, who is Black, said he thinks Augusta National should take a stronger stand against the voting law.
"It really targets certain Black communities and makes it harder to vote, which, to me, it's everyone's right to vote," he said. "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.”
Four-time major winner Rory McIlory, who is from Northern Ireland but lives in Florida, said he wanted to be respectful and careful about what he said on the issue because he’s not a U.S. citizen.
“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,” he 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,” McIlroy added.
The PGA Tour, which does not run the Masters, released a statement over the weekend saying that it will keep its Tour Championship in Atlanta, where it has been played every year since 2004, citing its financial commitments to charity and the local community.
“Our intention to stage an event in a particular market should not be construed as indifference to the current national conversation around voting rights,” the organization said. “The PGA Tour fully supports efforts to protect the right of all Americans to vote and to eliminate any barriers that may prevent citizens’ voices from being heard and counted. It is the foundation of our great country and a critical national priority to listen to the concerns about voter suppression – especially from communities of color that have been marginalized in the past – and work together to make voting easier for all citizens.”