It's hard to argue with Chairman Billy Payne's era as Masters Chairman. Sure, he follows the bumbling Hootie Johnson and just about any sign of progress or forward thinking would have made for a successful tenure after those turbulent years.
But the stability Payne brought to tournament business, coupled with the improvements to the property under his watch, makes it very hard to see anyone else doing the job (particularly when the not-gregarious Fred Ridley's name is mentioned as a likely successor).
Can you imagine anyone else spearheading the Drive, Chip and Putt or resisting the urge to spend some of that Berckman's Place money on more course changes? This was the point of my May Golfweek piece on Payne's tenure and the other many progressive moves that have upheld the Roberts/Jones desire to constantly advance The Masters as a sporting event. However, there is Payne's odd issue with cell phones, which doesn't make much sense when juxtaposed against other digital initiatives.
The summer of 2017 figures to be an interesting one for Payne since, as I wrote in this golf course-focused piece for Golfweek, the 5th hole is likely to see changes. The extent of the changes could range from a mere lengthening to a total land rearrangement to expand the course border once constrained by Berckman's Road.
Given the original hole's design concept, the changes made since, the difficult land forms at No. 5, and the lack of respect for strategic design by consulting architect Tom Fazio, I don't have high hopes for an upholding of the Jones/MacKenzie vision.
That said, Payne stemmed the Hootie Johnson era hemorraging, and that was a huge victory for those hoping to see some preservation of what remains from the original design vision.
The "second cut" of rough still strips the place of elegance that you get with wall-to-wall tight grass (not to mention slowing balls from the pine straw), and still rears its head on odd places.
The leafy, 3/8 inch-cut fairways do slow down roll but have made a links-inspired course almost entirely an aerial design.
With his first major golf course change potentially in the offing this year, we'll get to see another sign of Payne's chairmanship. One that most Masters watchers hopes does not end any time soon.