Shapiro On Commitment to Diversity (Or Lack Of)

leadership2.jpgLeonard Shapiro really hopes Augusta National takes a Woman-American member, and so do I, if nothing else so that we can move on to more important topics, like the emasculation (sorry) of the golf course.

And he writes:

Then again, nothing involving golf and women really surprises me much any more.

I mean really, the last two presidents of the U.S. Golf Association, the organization charged among other tasks with making the game accessible to the masses regardless of gender, race or religion, are both members of all-boy Augusta National. Current president Walter Driver, also belongs to Peachtree in Atlanta, a golf club that has no female or African American members, either.

And you ought to see the statement on the commitment to racial and gender diversity the Atlanta law firm, King and Spalding, he headed until last year trumpets to the public on its web site. Sadly, Driver and many other CEOs who belong to Augusta National don't practice in their private lives what their public companies preach in terms of doing all the right things.

The photo above of Walter Driver and friends was presumably not taken at Peachtree. Love that natural, at-ease body language!

Teleconference With Billy Payne

This Billy Payne thing is basically a column writer's worst nightmare. Okay, I won't complain anymore...this paragraph.

His opening remarks:

If I may, I'd like to talk first about our golf course.   There will be some changes to the course for the 2007 Masters that Mr. Johnson has already initiated, but certainly, I think you'll agree, not as significant as in the past.   They will include adding five to seven yards in front of the tees on hole Nos. 11 and 15.   The length of the tees on our other par 4s and 5s average about 20 yards.   On those two holes, it's only about 13 yards.   So these changes will make these tees consistent with the other tees on our course, and will provide us with more flexibility if the holes are playing into a substantial head wind or if the fairway conditions are soft.

Wow, flexibility. I wonder if someone had to explain it to Fazio?

Also, we will be adjusting the mow line at hole No. 11 about three to five yards on the golfer's right.   This, we believe, will provide the medium-length player a wider fairway, especially at the 280- to 300-yard mark.

Also, on the 11th hole, and on the right, we will be removing the grass from under the pine trees and replacing it with pine straw.   This, too, is consistent with other parts of our course.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very excited about today and look forward to your questions.

Here's what Billy's really thinking after sitting through plenty of press conferences: let the predictable questions begin.

Q.   Sounds like your first order of business is to make the course shorter somehow.

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I think it gives us the flexibility, Doug, that we want, depending on the course conditions and weather conditions.

Q.   I wanted to ask you, one issue that has arisen during Hootie's tenure was the lack of female members.   Can you see that changing?

BILLY PAYNE:   Doug, I think I would answer that by saying as we've said and as you've heard many times in the past, on membership matters, all of them will be decided by our members, and we have no specific timetable to address that issue.

Well, that took all of 20 seconds.

Q.   I'm wondering if this teleconference is any indication that under your tenure as Chairman, there will be other media availabilities other than Wednesday the week of the Tournament.

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I think I answer that specifically by saying that I certainly intend to come down there more than just Wednesday as I'm quite accustomed to the media center, made a lot of friends and feel a significant responsibility that the media continues to have all of the needs and services in order to do their job properly.

So I think you're going to see a lot more of me, and certainly have an opportunity to continue those relationships.

Q.   But does that include possible situations such as a teleconference other than the week of the Tournament?

BILLY PAYNE:   You know, I don't know.   I haven't yet taken over officially, so I haven't really thought about that.

Well, now that we got that vital topic of non-tournament week teleconferences out of the way...

Q.   Mr. Johnson mentioned the possibility in the future of adding PGA TOUR winners back to the exemption ranks.   Are there any other changes that you're going to be looking at right away?

BILLY PAYNE:   You're accurate.   We're looking at the issue of adding back PGA TOUR winners.   We're studying the issue.   We don't expect to do that by 2007.   In fact, it would actually be unfair to do so because there are golfers out there playing right now under the existing qualification standards.

So while you won't see it next year, I think it's a probability that you will see it sometime soon in the future.

Ah, the first Hootie mess he'll be mopping up.

Q.   Just wondered, you've only had a few days to think about it, but what do you regard as your greatest immediate challenge?

BILLY PAYNE:   I think I have -- I think it's safe to say that I will need to watch, to observe, I will need to learn a lot, get familiar with significantly greater detail about the operation of the Club and the Tournament than I now possess, and I've always felt that the best learning experience initially is certainly to listen and not talk.   So that's what I plan to do in the coming months.

Okay, this nonsense is just not going to fly.  How am I, as a column writer, supposed to work with humility?

Q.   A few of my questions have already been taken,

Oh you mean, like all of the predictable ones? Sorry, continue...

but can you tell me a little bit more, carrying on plans with some of the property acquisition around the golf course and plans for the practice facility and those types of things?

BILLY PAYNE:   Yes, sir, I can tell you a little bit, which will be the full extent of my knowledge at this point in time.   I am, of course, as are all of you aware, that in order to accommodate the growing support and parking needs of the Tournament, including a state-of-the-art practice facility, we have had this effort underway now for a couple of years.   It is ongoing.   We hope to have some renderings to be able to share with y'all sometime next year, so you can see for yourself what precisely the plan is.   And we continue to look for a completion date and utilization date in the 2010-2011 time frame.

We hope to have some renderings to share with y'all? No, no Billy, you need to be combative, petulant, arrogant, smug. I can't work with this!

You realize that if he keeps this stuff up, the focus will be on the Masters and the players, and not the Chairman?

That's just so wrong on so many levels, and so disrespectful to Chairman Johnson.

Q.   The idea of a Tournament ball has been floated the last couple years, Billy, what's your position on that?

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I guess first I'll start off, Doug, by saying that I'm very encouraged that there's an ongoing dialogue among the governing bodies, USGA, the R&A, with input and participation by the PGA TOUR to look at limitation on advances in both the equipment and the ball technology.   And I remain very hopeful and encouraged that while a difficult issue, some equitable resolution will be made, which will have the effect of slowing down the distances or the gains and distances as we have observed over the last several years.

So many of our great golf courses are at risk of becoming obsolete.   And while I and we would hope that resolution would come as quickly as possible through that normal process of the governing bodies, we would not take that option off the table in the context of what lengths to which we would go to protect our own course in the future.

I don't know about you, but there just seems to be a different feel to his comments on this subject compared to his predecessor. Maybe it's wishful thinking, or maybe Payne has grown tired of listening to Walter and Fred's lame excuses?

Q.   Everything has pretty much been asked, but a couple of things, are we pretty much maxed out on the golf course as far as the major changes?   Are we pretty much going to see what we're going to get for a while here?

BILLY PAYNE:   Yes, sir, I think we have it just about right now.   Remaining hopeful as I do that some limitations will be placed on equipment which will diminish the game in distance.   I think we've got the golf course pretty much like we like it right now.

Okay, so we need to chip in and buy him a chainsaw and maybe he'll get the hint. But isn't it interesting how he keeps hoping for limits to be placed?
Q.   Sorry if this has been asked, but have you thought about what it's going to be like to be part of that Champion's Dinner next year?

BILLY PAYNE:   I've thought about it a lot and I've been told that I'm an invited guest and I'll have a great time.   My job is just to listen and have fun, and boy, I'm really looking forward to it.

Good lord, you actually get the feeling he respects the players and feels privileged to be in their prescense.

This has to stop!

First Payne Reviews*

A somewhat encouraging start to the Billy Payne era:

"I think we have it just about right now," the 58-year-old Georgia native added. "We remain hopeful as that some limitations will be placed on equipment that will diminish the gains in distance.

"I think we have the golf course as like it right now."

Augusta National, controversially extended by 285 yards for the 2002 U.S. Masters, was stretched to 7,445 yards for this year's tournament, making it the second longest in major championship history.

Payne said limited changes would be made for the 2007 Masters, with the tee boxes on the 11th and 15th holes lengthened by five to seven yards.

"The length of the tees on the other par-fours averages about 20 yards," he added. "Those two holes are only about 15 yards long and this will provide us with more flexibility if the holes are playing into a substantial headwind."

In the only other changes for next year, the fairway on the par-four 11th will be widened around the 280-yard mark to help medium-length hitters while grass under the newly-planted trees flanking the right of that hole will be replaced by pine straw.

That's a nice start. Of course, just leaving the grass and taking out the trees would have been even better!

And an interesting comment about equipment restrictions. It will be nice to read the transcript to read his complete remarks.


Questions For Billy Payne

The Augusta gang has scheduled a Monday teleconference with Billy Payne, and since I'm still waiting for a Glenn Greenspan email letting me know the phone-in number, I thought I'd post a few questions. You know, just in case it never comes.

Let's get the inevitable's out of the way. Odds on which comes first?:

Is there a timetable for admitting a female member?

Will you restore the PGA Tour winner exemption?

Do you have plans to change the course this summer?

Hootie Johnson: Great Chairman, or The Greatest Chairman?

Okay, maybe the last one won't be asked in Colbertian fashion, but you know they'll be talking a lot about the great visionary that Hootie was. Expect the Augusta Chapter of the Mutual Admiration Society to overtake this teleconference.

That said, here are some questions I'd like asked with the hope of lending a little more insight into Payne and ANGC:

Are you aware that if you eliminated the second cut along with the silly Christmas trees on 1, 5, 7, 11, 14, 15, 17 and 18, that you would eliminate nearly all questions about the dreadful state of the course?

Are you aware that these simple changes would also make it more fun for the members to play the course again?

Have fellow Augusta members Walter Driver and Fred Ridley ever taken you on AirUSGA for one of those Curtis Cup/U.S. Senior Amateur/Goldman Sachs entertainment fact-finding trips to Bandon Dunes, Prairie Dunes, Cypress Point, Seminole or Pine Valley?

Do you agree with Chairman Emeritus Johnson that distance needs to be reigned in somehow?
Did you see any of the "Amen Corner Live" coverage and would you consider making it part of the broadcast on USA Network, minus the announcers who reference "Amen's Corner"?

Have you ever read Bobby Jones's Golf is My Game or Alister MacKenzie's The Spirit of St. Andrews to get a better feel for their design philosophy?

You did a lot of session work on Linda Ronstadt albums. Why do you hate America? (Apologies to Colbert again...oh wait, that's the other Billy Payne, sorry).

Readers, what would you ask?