AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Instead of changes to its famous golf course, Augusta National will this year put its energy and financial muscle into developing underprivileged local communities that have faced added hardship from COVID-19 and race issues.
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced on Wednesday at his annual pre-Masters news conference that the club and its partners will make a combined $10 million contribution that will help spur the redevelopment of neighborhoods.
Plans include a community center that will help provide access to better healthcare and a Boys & Girls Club headquarters.
"This contribution reaffirms our commitment to the City of Augusta, which has so generously supported us for decades," Ridley said.
Normally the changes the pre-Masters news conference focuses on are ones being made at one of the world's most exclusive clubs, whether it be tweaking a hole, building tunnels and roads or scooping up land for its own grand plans.
But this year Augusta National has displayed a change in awareness, Wednesday's news coming on the heels of Monday's announcement that Lee Elder, the first African American to play the Masters, would next year join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters of the tournament.
"We always ask the question, I wish we had done that earlier," said Ridley when asked why the changes could not have happened sooner.
"And I think that's always a question we should ask because hopefully it spurs us to speak more creatively for the future.
"All I would say is that we do look back to kind of learn from what we could have done better or perhaps sooner, but I'm looking ahead."
Change has long come at a glacial pace at Augusta National.
It was not until 15 years after Elder made his Masters appearance in 1975 that Augusta National would open its doors to its first Black member and in 2012 finally welcomed its first woman member.
Women golfers played their first ever competitive rounds at the club last year when it staged the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)
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