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Burk: 'Augusta membership damaging'

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The incoming president of the U.S.
Golf Association will not give up his membership at Augusta
National, despite protests from a women's group that his
credibility is damaged by belonging to a golf club that has no
female members.

Fred S. Ridley was elected Saturday as president of the USGA,
which sets the rules for golf in the United States and Canada and
runs 13 national championships.

Ridley, a 51-year-old Tampa lawyer, belongs to Augusta National
and Pine Valley, an exclusive club in New Jersey. Neither has
female members, and Pine Valley does not allow women to play its
top-rated course.

"If I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I hope people are not
going to spend a lot of time focusing on it because it's just not
that important to what I'm trying to do," Ridley said.

Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's
Organizations, demanded Ridley explain how he can belong to
all-male clubs, while leading an organization with
anti-discriminatory policies.

"His membership in Augusta is particularly damaging to the
credibility of the Girls Golf program, which the USGA co-sponsors
with the LPGA," Burk said in a statement. "He is teaching girls
that they can learn to play golf, but they will grow up to be
second-class citizens in the sport."

Ridley said he sees nothing inconsistent about his role with the
USGA and his memberships.

"I feel that where I play golf really doesn't have anything to
do or has any impact on me doing the best job I can for the USGA,"
Ridley said.

One of the goals Ridley wants to achieve during his two one-year
terms is to make golf more "user friendly."

"Golf is a very intimidating game, it's a hard game to learn,"
Ridley said. "I think the whole environment of entering the game,
of being around people who've played it a lot, it's just hard to
feel comfortable.

"I wish I had all the answers, but there's got to be a way to
fix that."

Ridley won the U.S. Amateur in 1975, the year after graduating
from the University of Florida, where he played on the golf team. Yet he is the
last amateur champion to forgo the professional ranks. He claimed
years of losing to Gators teammates Gary Koch and Andy Bean taught
him that his future was down a different path.

Still, Ridley is going to use his one-time exemption as a winner
of the U.S. Amateur and play this year in the U.S. Senior Open.

When he joined the USGA's executive committee in 1994, Ridley
was its youngest member. Since then, he has chaired the
Championship Committee, the group responsible for the conduct of
all USGA competitions.