Opinion: LPGA event would be great at Augusta National, but Fred Ridley prefers amateurs
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Four days after Augusta National Golf Club’s supremely successful women’s amateur championship, club chairman Fred Ridley said he was “still really glowing” about it, but a significant question remained:
If the previously all-male club truly wants to try to entice more girls and women to play golf and showcase the women’s game, why not do it with the best players in the world, those who play on the LPGA tour?
“Our focus throughout our history has been on, as far as our efforts to promote the game outside of the Masters, have always been on amateur golf,” said Ridley, who became chairman in October 2017 and almost immediately decided to put on a women’s amateur tournament at a club that famously didn’t have a woman as a member until 2012.
“I think what we would like to do, and hopefully will achieve, is doing things that will benefit professional golf, benefit professional women’s golf and all of golf,” Ridley said Wednesday at the annual club chairman’s news conference. “But by promoting women amateurs, the future stars of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, we’d like to think that that is something that’s going to benefit them, as well.”
Jennifer Kupcho celebrates her victory at the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (Photo: Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY Sports)
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There has never been a platform for women’s golf quite like the one Augusta National gave the amateurs Saturday. As thousands fanned across the venerable course and craned to see the finish on the 18th green, and NBC offered three hours of live coverage, the LPGA quietly held the first major of the year on any of the tours, the ANA Inspiration, in Rancho Mirage, California.
To say the LPGA players played second fiddle to the amateurs wouldn’t do the situation justice. Is there such a thing as 10th fiddle? Or 100th? Suffice it to say the Augusta National Women’s Amateur blocked out the sun, leaving far better golfers 2,200 miles away playing in figurative darkness.
No one said a peep in public, in large part because what Augusta National did was both so unexpected and so entirely welcome by those who champion women in the game. I mean, who on earth thought Augusta National, a club that fought a very public battle to exclude women members 16 years ago, would ever open its doors for a women’s tournament?
But now that the inaugural event is in the books, the questions are coming. Ridley batted away a follow-up pointing out that the club brings in the best male players for the Masters, so why not the best female players too?
“I guess that’s a matter of opinion, but again, we’re really looking to the future,” he said. “We also have to be respectful of the Masters tournament, which is one of the reasons why we had a partner that put this championship on with us, Champions Retreat (where the first two rounds were played).
“We were trying to balance providing the women competitors with the opportunity to be at Augusta National, to have a championship decided at Augusta National, but yet be cognizant of the fact that we were just a few days away from the Masters. So if you sort of put it in context with the Masters being the epicenter of our competitive tournament administration efforts, we do have some limitations as to what we could do and we try to balance that in deciding how we can best deploy our resources for the good of the game, and in this case, the women’s game.”
“Our focus throughout our history has been on, as far as our efforts to promote the game outside of the Masters, have always been on amateur golf," Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley says. (Photo: Michael Madrid, USA TODAY Sports)
One thing is certain: Golf needs girls and women, desperately. As the game loses participants, girls and women have become the sport’s growth industry after being shunned for decades.
Ridley said as much Wednesday.
“I also invite each and every person who loves this sport to introduce women of all ages to the game, a relative, a friend, a colleague at work. Let’s share the values of this game and the opportunities golf presents. Our hope and our ambition is very simple: To make a difference, and we believe the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is a good start.”
Asked if the club made a mistake in being so restrictive for so long, Ridley said, “I think that everyone, no matter what the issue is, you know, we can always look back and say we could do better. No question. But what my focus is, is on the future and where we are now and where we want to go. I don’t think it’s particularly — well, it is instructive. It’s always instructive to look at the past. We learn from the past.
“But what I think is most productive is to look at where we are today, realize that throughout the history of this club, we have promoted the game, and we have now identified a really important segment, the fastest-growing segment of the game, that we can help make a difference. We can’t do it all by ourselves, but we can help make a difference.”
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