Augusta National vows greater racial justice, diversity moves

Jim SLATER
·4-min read
Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play at the Masters, will serve as an honorary starter at next year's Masters, Augusta National announced Monday
Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play at the Masters, will serve as an honorary starter at next year's Masters, Augusta National announced Monday

Masters host Augusta National, once an all-white and all-male enclave, vowed Monday that a tribute to racial barrier-breaker Lee Elder is only a first step in racial justice and diversity initiatives.

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced that Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black player in the Masters, will serve as a 2021 Masters honorary starter and have two college golf scholarships bear his name.

"Lee delivered a simple but strong message that resonated throughout the world. That message was unequivocal: I belong," Ridley said.

"The courage and commitment of Lee Elder and other trailblazers like him inspired men and women of color to pursue their rightful opportunity to compete and follow their dreams.

"But in reality, that opportunity is still elusive for many. We have a long way to go and we can and we must do more."

Augusta National will create a men's and women's player scholarship at nearby Paine College, a Historically Black College and University, and create an entire women's golf program at Paine.

"To promote diversity, whether it be gender or race, is very important," Ridley said.

It took 15 years after Elder shattered the racial barrier for players before the club welcomed its first Black member in 1990 and it was not until 2012 that Augusta National admitted its first female members.

"While progress can always and should be made, and we do have progress to be made, I can assure you that that is an issue we're focused on," Ridley said, adding he seeks a more diverse Augusta National membership.

"I don't think satisfied would be the right word... because perfection is never attained. We do have a diverse membership. That has been an increasing fact over the past few years. It will continue to be an increasing fact during my chairmanship."

Augusta National's social and racial history has been a troubled one. Co-founder Clifford Roberts vowed all players would be white and all caddies would be Black.

Elder's historic start 45 years ago came at an event that never invited Black pioneer Charlie Sifford despite two 1960s PGA wins that typically would have brought an Augusta opportunity.

"It's always important to look back. You learn from looking back," Ridley said. "We, like all organizations, are acutely aware of our past."

The move comes in a year when racial inequality, social injustice and systemic racism have become major global issues following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minnesota.

"Like all organizations, we've been moved by the events of 2020," Ridley said. "There's been a lot said about racial justice and opportunity, and our question was not so much what can we say but what can we do.

"This announcement is in part a call to action in that regard."

Asked why a tribute to Elder didn't come sooner, Ridley replied, "It's a fair question and it's good to ask that question.

"All we can do at this point is to look forward and to realize we've been blessed with tremendous resources to do many things and we're going to use those resources in the right way."

- 'Means the world to me' -

Elder will join honorary starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player only in 2021 for a "special moment in time" according to Ridley.

"To earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life," Elder said.

"To be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary for next year's Masters means the world to me."

It won't happen this year because there is a hope for fans at the 2021 Masters. There are no spectators at this week's Masters due to the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed the Masters from April.

"We thought this would be a much more appropriate and much greater celebration," Ridley said. "We thought it was the right thing for Lee to have that moment in time that we hope will last forever."

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