Masters Chairman Billy Payne announced the formation of a club task force to make suggestions to grow the game during his State of the Masters press conference, which seemed to open up even stiffer-than-expected questions about the club's membership policies.
After a nice intro about the state of things, tournament improvements, remembrances for lost Masters friends and his general thoughts, Payne offered this:
I cannot close my remarks today without joining the growing chorus of golf organizations expressing their concerns about the absence of growth in golf and especially among the younger demographic. We are trying to do our part, as has been evidenced by the significant annual contributions we make to many domestic and international golf organizations.
Several years ago, we created our Junior Patron Program, allowing free admission to the tournament for kids between the ages of 8 and 16. We continue our efforts to grow the game of golf in Asia in partnership with the R&A and the resulting Asia Pacific Amateur Championship is entering its fourth year and has been a terrific success.
We participated in the creation of an enormously successful award‑winning video game in a continuing attempt to bring young people to the game. The second edition was just released, and as was the case with the first, all proceeds go to our Masters Tournament Foundation.
Impressive efforts I hope, but not enough. We can do better.
This is where I thought we were in for a shock announcement.
We can be a better partner with the established golf organizations as they address these critical issues. To that end, we have appointed a very smart and motivated team of Members who have been given the charge of determining what more we can do: What ideas might potentially attract kids and other groups of potential golfers to the game; how can these ideas be integrated into the expansive and impressive efforts of the other golf organizations.
The problems are so easy to identify: Golf is too hard; it takes too long to play; it's not a team sport; it's too expensive. The solution is more difficult. But we must try.
Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation. Whether we lead occasionally or follow always, it doesn't matter; it only matters that we try.
If you took the "over," you won in the woman-member question pool.
Q. You began talking about a number of the changes that happened here at the course. Since you've been Chairman, all of those changes have been well‑documented. One of the changes that has not happened to the Club is the all‑male Membership. Wonder if you ever foresee that changing, and why or why not.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of Membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the Members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement.
Here was my attempt to follow up to ask if Mr. Payne if he would be telling the R&A and USGA to address distance.
Q. Mr.Chairman, you've expressed concern today about the state of the game. The Club has spent a lot of money to extend its golf course to respond to increases in distance, and you've talked about slow play and cost. Will you be expressing to the task force any views that you have based on your experience since you've been Chairman about how that influences the cost of the game or the way the game is played?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm sure that I will share a lot of my private opinions with them, and they will embrace those they think are good enough to take to the next step.
But once again, I think all of those factors are important. And I really don't want to go any further, because I'm way down the road thinking about all these potential ideas, and I need a governor placed on me first I think before I talk about it.
Okay, here's where things got testy.
Q. Mr.Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don't you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, that deals with a Membership issue, and I'm not going to answer it.
Q. No, it doesn't.
Q. Seems like a mixed message, Billy, is what he's saying. You're throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there's still a perception that certain people are excluded.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That is a Membership issue that I'm not going to‑‑ thank you for your‑‑
Q. It sends‑‑
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you.
Q. It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club; it's not a Membership question.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you for your question, sir.
Q. Mr.Chairman, as a grandfather, what would you say to granddaughters? How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Once again, though expressed quite artfully, I think that's a question that deals with Membership, and‑‑
Q. It's a kitchen‑table, personal question.
Kitchen-table? Are we at his kitchen table?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also personal. (Laughter.)
Q. Billy, kind of on that note, you talked about what a great Masters it was last year and how much anticipation there is coming into this year's Masters. I'm curious how you felt when this issue comes up again on the eve of the Masters, and do you feel it reflects negatively on either the Club or the Tournament?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think there's certainly a difference of opinion on that, and I don't think I have formed an opinion on that, Doug. But certainly there's ‑‑ people have different opinions on that subject.
And now, back to the golf and a funny moment...
Q. There was a lot of mud on the ball yesterday and again today in some of the practice rounds, would you consider, I know you wouldn't like to, but lift, clean and place?
FRED RIDLEY: We would all‑‑
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You'd better let me answer that one.
FRED RIDLEY: Excuse me? (Laughter).
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm going to start with that one, and you can correct me.
We surely would not want to have to do that. That would be a decision very difficult to make. However, we are also bright enough to know that weather conditions can have an impact on that, and possibly cause us to change our minds on that issue.
Were you going to say that (looking at Mr. Ridley).
FRED RIDLEY: I couldn't have set it better, Mr.Chairman.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you. (Laughter).
And now back to the touchy stuff...
Q. You said your conversations with your granddaughters are private. What would you suggest I tell my daughters?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know your daughters.
Q. What without them, that the most prestigious golf club in the country, they are not‑‑
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I have no advice for you there, sir.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.