Roundup: Billy Payne's Legacy As Masters Chairman

Jaime Diaz of Golf World says Billy Payne's "accomplishments far outnumber the four previous chairmen who followed Jones’ and Roberts’ legacy" and gets an exclusive sitdown with the retiring Chairman.

Among the topics covered included the Masters ball idea...

“That would be a very drastic step, and we would hope before that was necessary, there would be a collaborative decision. We love to follow collaborative decisions. Not be a loner. But we reserve the right to do so if we think it’s needed. We retain options about our course. So, I would suspect we would exhaust those before we would unilaterally jump ahead of others.”

The Augusta Chronicle's John Boyette also talked to Payne about a range of accomplishments. The outgoing chairman offered this on his successor, Fred Ridley:

“I think he’ll be, as I tried to be, another great custodian,” Payne said Tuesday in an interview with The Augusta Chronicle. “I think all chairmen after our first two founders are custodians of their dreams and aspirations. We try to maintain it and, if we can, make it a little better. He’s going to do that beautifully.”

The Chronicle also ranks Payne's best moments and offers this history of the chairmen. Boyette also notes that Ridley will be the first chairman who has actually played in The Masters.

AP's Doug Ferguson leads by writing that "Payne ruled more with an open mind than an iron fist" and offers an extensive history of his tenure.

ESPN.com's Bob Harig focuses on the admission of female members and the many major construction accomplishments achieved during the Payne years.

Christine Brennan for USA Today on Payne's legacy of supporting women's athletics in general.

It was no surprise that the man who ran the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta — an event known as the “Women’s Olympics” for the tremendous success of U.S. women in soccer, softball, basketball, gymnastics and swimming, among others — would be the one to bring staid, exclusionary Augusta National into the 21st century.

In fact, in the early 1990s, as the young leader of the upcoming Atlanta Olympics, Payne wanted to make golf an Olympic sport, with this kicker: staging the competition at Augusta National. He also was going to demand that the competition include women.

At the time he was not a member of the club, and he knew that women were not allowed to be members, but his idea was to show those old men of Augusta National what women could do.

Rex Hoggard for GolfChannel.com:

In many ways Payne – whose leadership style was born from his time as president and CEO of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic committee – was both a consensus builder and an autocrat, a leader who understood the challenges the game faced and Augusta National’s unique position as a conduit for change. That he was willing to use that influence was, quite simply, an act of leadership.

Hoggard also has player reaction, including the reactions from Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson.

Josh Berhow at Golf.com reminds us that Payne also pushed things on the television rights front.

During his tenure, Payne was behind the Masters' new TV contract with ESPN in 2008 — which broadcast and elevated the Masters Par-3 Contest —

On that topic, a statement from ESPN President John Skipper on retirement of Payne:

“It has been my pleasure to work with Billy Payne during his tenure as Chairman. He has wonderfully maintained the preeminence of the world’s greatest golf tournament while innovating effectively in digital media and expanding the footprint of the tournament, the club and the game of golf both literally and figuratively in Augusta and throughout the world. I wish him well-earned satisfaction in his accomplishments and pleasure in his deserved retirement.

“Billy’s last accomplishment was leaving the club in the capable hands of Fred Ridley. We look forward to working with Fred for many years.”

Billy Payne Steps Down As Masters Chairman

To be succeeded by Fred Ridley. The news comes as a bit of a surprise given that Chairman Billy Payne was almost finished overseeing a few final projects. However, with Hootie Johnson's recent passing and the growing success of so many other initiatives spearheaded by Chairman Payne and a bad back testing his spirit, perhaps the shift to Chairman Emeritus should not be a surprise.

The club's announcement:

Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, announced today that he is retiring from his position at the beginning of the Club season on October 16. Payne will be succeeded as Chairman by Fred Ridley, who currently serves the Masters Tournament as Chairman of the Competition Committees.

Payne, 69, has served as Chairman since May 21, 2006. In retiring from this role, he will assume the title of Chairman Emeritus.

During his tenure as Chairman, Payne was a collaborative presence, bringing together golf’s leading institutions to implement new ways to expand the reach of the game, such as his vision for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, Latin America Amateur Championship and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. He worked to make the sport more welcoming, including the addition of women into the Club’s membership and the creation of the popular Junior Pass Program during the Masters. In keeping with the tradition of constant improvement established by Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, Payne directed the significant expansion and development of the Augusta National campus, leading to the creation and improvement of numerous facilities and services enjoyed by the membership and visitors to the Tournament. He also encouraged innovation, especially through the development of digital media offerings and emerging television technologies, in an effort to help reach new and younger audiences.

“The privilege I experienced serving as Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters was far greater than I could have ever imagined,” Payne said. "Just as nothing can prepare you for the unique responsibilities and important decisions that come with this position, it is equally impossible to anticipate the many joys and, most importantly, the wonderful friendships that are the ultimate reward of service. This honor, however, is too great for one person to claim as their own for too long a period of time. I retire knowing it is simply the right thing to do – and at the right moment – to open the door and invite someone new to be called upon to lead, bring forth new ideas and craft a new vision that will honor our Founders and serve the game of golf for many years to come.

“I am now proud to call upon my good friend Fred Ridley to lead Augusta National and the Masters to a future that I am confident will hold new promise, while always being faithful to the principles of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Fred will be an excellent Chairman who will serve with my complete and enthusiastic support.”
Ridley will become the seventh Chairman of the Club and Tournament. Those who previously held the post are Roberts (1933-77), Bill Lane (1977-80), Hord Hardin (1980-91), Jack Stephens (1991-98), Hootie Johnson (1998-2006) and Payne.

Reactions To Augusta's Monday Morning News, Vol. 2

Quite an array of takes on the Augusta National membership change, as you'd expect, so here goes in no particular order.

John Paul Newport on why the club had to act if it was going to be taken seriously on matters related to growing the game.

Billy Payne, Augusta’s current chairman, endured an unusually hostile grilling about the issue at his annual chairman’s press conference before the tournament in April. Many of the questions focused on the club’s support for growing the game, including for golf’s First Tee program, which seeks to pass along the game and its values to boys and girls, many from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jason Sobel offers some perspective for those not fawning over something that should have happened a while ago.

Anyone considering this decision analogous to a double eagle on the course should remember that it comes on the heels of years of triple bogeys.

Annika Sorenstam tweeted that this is a "historic day for the game of golf."

ESPN's Darren Rovell, apparently laboring under the delusion that female guests visiting Augusta National over the years were served roadkill in the servants quarters, tweeted:

Just because Augusta has now let women in doesn’t mean their job is over. They need to make women feel comfortable there.

He also penned an odd ESPN.com commentary suggesting that because the club sells a chicken biscuit for $1.50.

All you have to do is look at the Masters concession prices and you can make the argument that Augusta National tries harder than almost any other business in America not to make money.

This year, you could get cookies for $1, a cup of coffee for $1 or a muffin for $1. Really want to splurge? Go for that imported beer for $3.75.

Not bowing down to the almighty dollar created a problem for anyone who felt that excluding women was unfair. When money isn't a factor, there's little you can do.

He goes on to point out that the decision prevents them from being pressured by the money. The money he says they try hard not to make.

Thankfully Rovell did tweet this statement from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

Masters sponsor AT&T issues statement on Augusta National letting women in: "As a sponsor of The Masters, we applaud today's historic announcement by Augusta National and warmly welcome Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National.”

AP's Seanna Adcox tells us more about Darla Moore, who has given a lot of money away in the name of charity and in making politicians look bad!

She has served on a number of corporate, medical and university boards, but she is perhaps best known in South Carolina as a philanthropist. Moore is the top donor to the University of South Carolina, pledging $75 million since 1998, when the business school was named after her. She also donated $10 million to her late father's alma mater, Clemson University.

Much of her philanthropy is done behind the scenes, as she eschews the spotlight.

Some of Golf Channel's analysis from today's Golf Central coverage:

On the membership process at Augusta National:

Golf Channel Analyst Frank Nobilo: “This is a process that would not be done just overnight.  I imagine this would have taken five or six years like it does take for any other member…Augusta National doesn’t make mistakes.  They might be conservative, but there are no mulligans at Augusta.  And this is no exception.”
 
Hack: “These are two women with impeccable credentials.  The Masters took their time to find the two women they wanted to represent their club.”
 
On the significance of this day for women in golf:

Sorenstam: “This is an organization that has been male dominated in so many ways.  For them to open up, it has been such a talked about debate for so long, now we can close the chapter.  We can move on.  I think that they are really showing that traditions can change.  The women they have invited, they are very highly respected women and business leaders.  In my opinion, this is a win-win situation.”
 
Golf Channel Contributor John Feinstein: “It is another one of those invisible walls knocked down…There are still all-men’s clubs around the world, including the Royal and Ancient.  But arguably, the most important men’s club in the world is no longer a men’s club.” 

From SI's excellent impromptu roundtable on the news and what it means for the game.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I was pretty sure Billy Payne was too smart and too much of a diplomat to let this issue continue to taint the Masters, but I was beginning to wonder what was taking him so long. Now that it's done, it seems so easy, so obvious.

Hanger: Right. My first thought was, finally. Payne seemed genuinely flustered with the harsh questioning this year, and I wonder if behind closed doors that led him to push for the change. The issue was clearly not going away, so they really didn't have much of a choice.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm happy the club did the right thing so we can put all of this unpleasantness behind us.

Paul Newberry brings up the sticky issue of the R&A and its gender issues, which include visiting men-only Muirfield next year and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (different than the R&A remembrer!) and their male-only membership.

On the other side of the Atlantic, where this quirky little game actually started and the sport's oldest major championship is held every summer, they've got their own gender issues.

The next British Open will be at Muirfield, which is men only. The resistance to women is epitomized by a tale passed down through the years - who knows if it's actually true or not - that there was once a break-in at the clubhouse, but they wouldn't let the police inside because a female officer showed up to investigate.
Chuckle, chuckle.

Only one problem.

This is no laughing matter.

Not anymore.

Scott Michaux, who has been covering this story for a long time, offers this:

Since taking over as chairman of the club in 2006, Payne has made it his personal mission to use Augusta National’s notoriety and resources to “grow the game” around the world.

But all of those growth efforts, however noble, rang a little hollow when half of the world’s population was excluded from ever having the chance of becoming a member at Augusta. Of course the odds of anyone becoming a member are slimmer than winning the Mega Millions lottery (and that would obviously help one’s chances), but infinitesimal is better than zero every day.

Augusta National inviting women members is a symbol of growth and equality, and an important one.

Lorne Rubenstein says the news "reminds us of how backward golf at the highest levels can be, and too often is."

But Augusta National today is getting attention around the world because it has admitted two women as members. The club is far and away the exception to the rule that golf is a game for everybody. Why should it be applauded because it now admits female members? It’s off-putting when reactionaries are perceived as revolutionaries. Augusta National’s admitting female members isn’t a cause for celebration. If it's a cause for anything, it’s a cause for reflection.

Stina Sternberg, a longtime critic, calls the day momentous.

The fact that Augusta owes nothing to anybody is precisely what makes today's announcement such a huge moment. Clearly, financial and political pressures have never bothered the green jackets. If anything, it's only spurred them to stick to their "traditions" even more. But they knew this had to be done if the game was to thrive. The desire to do the right thing for the image of golf finally superseded the need to have the last word.

Colleague Ashley Mayo says not so fast.

As much as golf is believed to be stuck in the 19th century, the fact is the overwhelming majority of golf courses welcome women with open arms. The overwhelming majority of manufacturers make golf clubs specifically for women. The overwhelming majority of apparel companies create gear exclusively for women. This has been the case for years, and will continue to be so for years to come.

Lester Munson wonders how Condi is going to explain this to the Stanford faculty and what would have happened if the new female members had just said no. Then again, how would we have known if she said no?

Chairman Payne Earns Mixed Reviews...

Chairman Billy Payne earned mixed reviews for his performance during Wednesday's State of the Masters press conference, which turned surprisingly tense at times and because of the club's stance, wiped out potentially huge news that the members want to play a part in discussions about the state of the game.

Eddie Pells' AP lede:

Jabbed, prodded and poked repeatedly about a topic that never really goes away, Billy Payne wouldn't budge.

Ron Sirak for GolfDigest.com:

Five consecutive queries were about female members, including how the club can justify being an advocate for the growth of the game while excluding women and what Payne would say to his granddaughters about the fact there are no women in the club.

While the question grew more pointed, Payne remained calm and polite and indicated the matter was closed -- at least for the day -- by saying "Thank you for your question, sir."

Alan Shipnuck for golf.com:

Payne gave him a Dirty Harry glare and talked over him until moderator Craig Heatley frantically called upon another scribe. If Payne thought he could will away such questions, he was badly mistaken, and he seemed taken aback by the intensity in the room. One veteran newspaperman who has had many dealings with Payne later said, "That was the first time I have ever seen Billy shaken."

That will surely be a relief to Payne. But even he must now understand that Augusta National's all-male membership will always be a cloud that darkens Masters week, for him and his proud club.

Steve Elling for CBSSports.com:

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, having just proudly detailed the club's many attempts to "grow the game" internationally, had painted himself into a corner and there was no escaping. He teed himself up, handed a titanium driver to the critics and social progressives, and was sent flying into the trees.

Ron Kroichick for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Six times, by choosing to remain silent on the topic, Payne whiffed.

It wasn’t surprising, really, because Augusta National officials have long tried to sidestep this issue. That’s their prerogative, technically, as a private club — but it’s also relentlessly hypocritical as the host of one of golf’s most storied and prestigious events.

The Guardian's Marina Hyde:

Perhaps the best that can be said of his faux-discretion is that it was not as pathetic as his 2010 denunciation of Tiger Woods's cocktail waitress habit, in which Payne joined the throng of emotionally stunted dullards claiming to feel personally "let down" by someone who plays sport for a living. You could almost feel the relish. Although the word "uppity" mercifully failed to get a run-out, Payne's wholly uncharacteristic eagerness to tip buckets of ordure over a hugely successful star of the game – far from the first to stray from the righteous path – raised the most questionable spectres in a culture where black men are still stereotyped as feckless and sexually incontinent. Having moralised fatuously about how Tiger had not just let all of us down, but "our kids and grandkids", he concluded his homily by suggesting that Woods come to heel and "begin his new life here tomorrow".

But in reality, it wasn't Woods who owed Augusta – it was Augusta who owed Woods.

I really have no idea what she's saying, but it was fun to read!

Lawrence Donegan, who pressed the Chairman on the club's stance.

Payne's refusal to delve into "personal" matters was in stark contrast to his wholesale, and some argued unjustified, excoriation of Tiger Woods in 2010 over the way the golfer had conducted his private life.

Asked by the Guardian if the growth of golf would best be promoted by Augusta opening its doors to a woman, thereby sending a "wonderful message to young girls around the world … that one day they could join this very famous club", Payne said only: "Thank you for your question, sir."

Bob Harig for ESPN.com:

A shame, really.

A shame that a place that brings so much joy to the golf world, that is revered along the far reaches of the globe, that has every right to set its own membership policies, can't be above the nonsense, invite a woman and move on.

Augusta National might be private, but it is not this week. It makes millions from the tournament, sits at the big table when golf's biggest issues are discussed, is viewed almost as a public trust. It now sells a video game, reaping even more millions, with all of Augusta National's portion earmarked for a charitable grow-the-game initiative.

Aren't women part of that?

Golf Channel's Jason Sobel:

It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what you think.

When it comes to membership policies at Augusta National Golf Club, it only matters what the current members think. And they aren’t keen on sharing that information.

If there’s one thing we learned during Wednesday’s annual pre-tournament interview session with Masters chairman Billy Payne, it’s that any and all discourse about internal matters at the club will remain internal until the time when – or more likely, if – he decides to publicize them.


Final Masters Question: Will Growing The Game Initiatives Expose The Club To Unwanted Scrutiny?

masterslogo.gifOkay we've chewed on this rag enough, but one last topic related to the Masters worth considering: the club's global golf initiative.

Ron Sirak writes that it's "all of it is good" when talk turns to the job Billy Payne is doing.

Whether it's allowing children in for free, switching the cable coverage to ESPN or permitting TV audiences to see the Wednesday Par 3 Contest, Payne has made it clear he wants Augusta National, already a quasi-governing body of the game, to play a more active role in growing the game. Which brings us to Payne's biggest challenge: carrying out the balancing act between progress and tradition.

We saw signs last week that their desire to grow the game, while no doubt well-intentioned, may open up the club to unwanted scrutiny.

The most obvious example came during last week's press conference, where Chairman Payne was soaking up the love for letting in children of patrons free. It opened the door for a somewhat embarrassing question about the club's policy toward female members.

Now, I can sympathize with the side insisting that Augusta National is a private club and can do as they please. But if you are out touting your desire to help inspire the youth to take up golf, don't you have to set a certain example?

The same questions will apply to the golf course and tournament as well. How can you grow the game when you are giving us 5:37 threesomes and five hour twosomes on Sunday, thanks to course changes that have eliminated options and put a stranglehold on the world's best?

I suspect this is only the beginning. The harder the club pushes its global growth initiative, the tougher the questions will get about the U.S. Open style setup, the tree planting, the second cut, the pace of play, and even the idea of letting kids run around on the Par 3 course damaging greens.

But probably more alarming for members, I suspect Payne's initiative will only increase the questions about the club's finances and membership policies.

So is this growing the game initiative really "all good"?

Seems to me it's a high risk endeavor with little reward for the club.

Thoughts? 

"Other than tweaks maybe for Patron flow, drainage, otherwise, you could expect to see it for a long time in the future."

Billy Payne's second ever sitdown with the slingers...

How's this for a revelation?

Immediately after this press conference, we are encouraging all golf fans to go to Masters.org, CBSSports.com, ESPN.com, BBC.co.uk, and in Japan TBS.co.jp, and between now and June 1 register and tell us how they believe golf could be improved and promoted around the world.

Registration forms will be available immediately after this press conference on our Web site with promotional instructions in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. We want to know, how can we capture the interest of children in this great game; can golf be made easier; why did it take so long to play; what is the best way to get kids involved at an early age.

We look forward to what we believe will be tens of thousands of responses that we receive and honestly expect to report to you at a later date that we have uncovered some really great concepts and ideas which can be incorporated into our own initiatives and efforts.

Send your pleas for Tom Fazio's ouster as consulting architect here. Imagine the USGA doing such a thing? Soliciting suggestions! Perish the thought. I do feel bad for the poor lad who has to read all of the stuff.

Q. Chris Berman is not going to be here; was that something that you guys --

CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I have never had a discussion about that. We don't tell our broadcast partners who their on-air talent can be.

Notice how the scribe couldn't even finish the question before Billy answered. Hmmm...

Okay here comes your annual question about letting a Woman-American join. Have to say the scribes are getting more clever.

Q. You talked about allowing boys and girls 8 to 16 to come in.

CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Yes, sir.

Q. Half of that equation, the boy half when they ask the person who brought them in, "But Daddy, sometimes I would like to join the club," and the girl part of the equation can't join the club. Do you see that changing?

CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I would tell you what I've told you in the past, that I don't talk about membership issues; that that's reserved for the private deliberations of the Members, and other than that, I'm not going to talk about it.

And now a word about the rough.

CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: You know, we have always had different length grass here all the way from the very beginning.

Yada yada...we know...

I listened very carefully to the player interviews the last several days and looked back at last year's, and they are split almost right down the middle about their opinion about the second cut.

Now Billy, don't make me go tabulating comments. It's 50% hate it and 50% saying it doesn't impact play. No one's in love with it. Oh, except you...kinda.

But I think, first of all, we like it. We think that it does put a premium on driving accuracy. However, we do believe that when you're in the second cut, it's more difficult to reach some of the pins because it does impact the ability to spin the ball.

The opinion I've just expressed, if you ask a hundred people, 50 would take the other side, but we like our side, and that's what we're going to do. We like it. Other than tweaks maybe for Patron flow, drainage, otherwise, you could expect to see it for a long time in the future.

Because there are some mistakes we just won't admit. Though acknowledging that it's debated and that half of the people you ask don't like it is a big admission. Especially since the 50% includes just about every living former champion.

A pace of play question picked up by Fred Ridley. Check out the target time...

FRED RIDLEY: That's right. Obviously for the enjoyment of the game for the players and the Patrons is to move the field along. We look at that every year. As a matter of fact we have actually tightened up the pace of play this year. Our target time is four hours and 45 minutes, which is a seven-minute reduction from last year.

Now, whether or not we can achieve that is another story, but we think by encouraging the players and letting them know that this is the expected time, because that is one of the elements of whether or not a group is out of position, we think that we might speed up the play marginally, which I think would be good.
 And...
Q. Going back to slow play, because of the size of the field and the independence of the organization, you're probably in a better position than anybody to do something about it. Is there a possibility in the future you might start penalizing players shots in a meaningful manner that will change their behavior?

FRED RIDLEY: Well, we have a pace of play policy that we think is appropriate. And it provides some very detailed parameters for how quickly a pace we expect the players to play, and we think our officials, who are the best officials from around the world, understand that policy, and they will enforce it when it's appropriate.
So we are comfortable that we have a good pace of play policy. This is a golf course that just takes some time to play, but we are monitoring it very closely.

All in all, a very nice job by the assembled scribbs to get some answers. Of course, I'm always a sucker for slow play talk.

Chairman Payne's Press Conference

masterslogo.gifThis was a serious lovefest after the Hootie years. Thanks largely to Billy Payne's shrewd handling of course. Novel concept, this honest, straightforward no-nonsense stuff.

Still, it would have been nice if he was grilled a bit on a few topics.

On the reduction of the top 40 PGA Tour money winner qualification to top 30 along with the top 30 at the end of the FedEx Cup playoffs:

We have applied these new 2008 qualifications over the last five years, and I can report that the field size over those years would have been on average one or two players larger.

And because he's smart and wants to make sure we don't think this was a rescinding of a bad Hootie Johnson idea...

Q. Could you talk about what led you to your decision about the qualifications changes and particularly the PGA TOUR winners?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I cannot take credit for that. That's something my predecessor was thinking about and talking about, encouraged me to take a hard look at. And, you know, he was preaching to the choir.
I can remember innumerable times where winners of tournament events would be more excited to hear that they had automatically qualified for the Masters than to receive the first prize money check. So it was an exciting component of golf that really only the Masters could offer, and we all thought it appropriate that we bring it back.

Funny, Hootie had every chance to reverse it and he didn't. But we admire the humility and the respect for your elders.

As for the golf course:

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, as I reflect back last year when very significant changes were made, and those that preceded it in '98 and 2002, I was very proud of the way that the course was able to identify the best golfer and that linked with not necessarily the only component of one's game that made them competitive. I think last year demonstrated that conclusively. I think the order of finish demonstrated that conclusively. I think that we've got it about right.

So I would not anticipate substantive changes in the near future, but I would have to caveat that by saying that we certainly measure flight and roll distance, and will be always aware of the quality of the challenge that the golf course presents to these great players.

The quality of the challenge. Yes, the second cut and trees do reduce the quality of the challenge, don't they?

Here's a brilliant question from the gallery:

Q. Do you anticipate scoring being somewhere on the level of last year?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I can't predict what the scoring is going to be, but we're certainly going to set up the golf course to be as good and as fair a test as we can.

Like it's the third quarter report and Payne is the CFO. Sheesh.

The dreaded technology question:

Q. Wonder if you could elaborate a little on your perception of Augusta's role in the battle between technology and maintaining golf courses of this tradition.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, of course I can speak only for Augusta, but I certainly can, I believe, articulate, enunciate, emphasize the problem that we think exists that potentially threatens us and other great courses of the world. With the combination of physical conditioning and equipment over the last several years, as you all know better than I do,

Oh I wouldn't be so sure of that...sorry,continues...

some of these great courses have been significantly threatened. We were at a point at one time, as Tiger said the other day, where Augusta National was being played with driver and wedge on all par 4 holes, and that was not the original intention of our founders.

My predecessor and those before him had the courage to do something about it.

Well, courage? More like desire to make sure red numbers weren't splattered all over the board while they were in charge... 

It's something that we must be always aware of and never, ever be afraid to do whatever we have to do to protect that which is in our opinion necessary to accomplish to protect this great course. That's what we're going to do.

Q. Has the club ever conducted a study on how long you could make the course if you wanted to stretch it out as far as you can, and if so, what was that number?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know that number, but I would guarantee you we've studied everything you can study.

Let's hope he's studying how move fairway back to the trees and chop down some pines. 

Questions For Billy Payne

masterslogo.gifBilly Payne faces the all-star cast of softball-hurling scribblers and inkslingers for Wednesday's annual chairman Q&A. While he won't flip his lid like Hootie was prone to do, Payne should at least have to earn his pay. Oh wait, he's not paid. Well, they should still ask him a few questions beyond the expected (will you restore exempt status for PGA Tour event winners, will Arnold Palmer be the honorary starter, when are you going to 18-hole TV coverage every year, yada, yada, yada...).

Here are mine. Please feel free to add yours below in the comments section.

  • The USGA claims to have proof that with today's grooves, players can spin the ball more out of the light rough than they can from fairway lies. Therefore, don't you have an obligation to remove the "second cut" if it's an advantage to approach from there?

  • Will the Masters telecasts ever be the same without Bobby Clampett at Amen Corner?
  • Do you feel that tree planting in spots intended as landing areas by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie infringes upon the integrity of their design? If so, does that matter?
  • Has Richie Ramsay officially committed to the event?
  • Have you considered giving a percentage of tickets to overseas patrons? 
  • Can you explain the strategy that club envisions behind today's 11th hole and how that is consistent with the original design?
  • With apologies to Colbert. Hootie Johnson. Great chairman or the greatest chairman?

More Payne

masterslogo.gifWho didn't Billy Payne talk to leading up to this year's Masters?

First, Tim Carroll in the Wall Street Journal poses some great questions to the new chairman (thanks to reader John for the link).

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Is it fair that your predecessor, Hootie Johnson, is going to be known forever as the man who wouldn't let women into Augusta National?

MR. PAYNE: No, I don't think so. I'm thinking he's going to be remembered principally as a man who took on the very significant challenges to our wonderful golf course caused by the advances in distance that were a consequence of some advances in technology. He took some very bold steps in order to ensure that our course kept its competitive nature, notwithstanding the fact that the average driving distance since the founding of our tournament is up some 70 yards.

Notice Mr. Payne never says anything about the guys being better athletes. Get this man the talking points!

WSJ: One of the changes outside Augusta National is technology. For a long time, it was the ball. Augusta National threatened to impose a tournament ball, something that Ohio did for some of its statewide events. Lately, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews seem to be focusing on club-face grooves. Do you feel as if you're in some sort of nuclear arms race against the ball and club makers? Is an Augusta ball still a possibility? How about Augusta clubs?
MR. PAYNE: We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the competitiveness of our golf course against the challenges of these great and very talented players and against equipment changes which allow them to hit the ball farther and to spin the ball more. As a consequence, I think we remain diligent as we measure and look at those kinds of increases and those kinds of challenges to our course. But last year, as you recall, one of the tour's longest hitters was the winner [Phil Mickelson], and a close second was one of the tour's shortest hitters in Tim Clark. So we felt that that was demonstrative that the course was a fair challenge to players of all lengths. So, we think we got it about right now....

We are encouraged by the fact that the regulatory governing bodies, both the Tour and the USGA and R&A, are themselves looking at ways to either diminish the increases in length and/or to affect the spin of the ball. All of which has an indirect consequence of making folks not want to just hit it as far as they can whether or not it goes into the rough.

So again I ask. If the guys are spinning it more out of the rough than the fairway, as the USGA is claiming, then why not eliminate the rough?

Loved this question from Carroll:

WSJ: Another change this year is that Fred Ridley, a longtime USGA official, is setting up the golf course for the first time. In the past, Sunday hole locations have seemed to be in spots where amazing things could happen. Take the 16th hole: There were two holes-in-one in 2004 and Tiger Woods's jaw-dropping chip-in for birdie two years ago when he used the green's ridge as a backboard. The USGA seems to have different thoughts on how to set up a golf course. As viewers, can we expect to see the Sunday fireworks continue?

MR. PAYNE: It would be fair to say that the imprimatur you will see imprinted on the golf course, the final Sunday and especially on the second nine, will be as you have seen it traditionally at Augusta. We hope [the setup] will allow those fireworks that you refer to continue. Because that's what people want to see. I think that's the way the players prefer it as well.

In the LA Times, Thomas Bonk profiles Payne and offers this:

Payne said Johnson could not have done a better job.

"He is a dear friend of mine and I would rate his performance a 10. I thought he faced the issue of technology threatening our course and dealt with it decisively, properly and in the best interests of our tournament.

"Equally as important, he was much aware of the importance of Augusta National and the preservations of our traditions and its place in the game of golf."

A 10? I know, I know, he has to say this stuff.

The work on the course for this year is complete, with only minor changes, including adding to the front of the 11th and 15th tees and changing the cut line on the right side of the 11th fairway.

"Hopefully, for the duration of my turn, we would not need to resort to any substantive changes," Payne said.

"Given the way the relative field competed … absent continued technological advances, it seems to me we should have it right for quite a while. I will caveat that by saying we don't take any option off the table when it comes to preserving the integrity of this course."

I like that caveat, assuming Payne recognizes that the rough and tree planting are impacting the integrity of the Jones/MacKenzie vision. 

"I believe they were necessary"

masterslogo.gifFrom Ron Sirak's Golf World profile of new Masters Chairman Billy Payne:

The course changes under Johnson--criticized by, among others Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who are members and winners of a combined 10 Masters--get Payne's approval. "I believe they were necessary," he says. "This course should never be reduced to driver-pitching wedge as it was becoming." He adds, however, a rolled-back Masters ball is still possible if another distance explosion occurs.

A follow-up for Wednesday's press conference: Do you believe the "second cut" and added trees are integral to preventing the course from being reduced to a driver-wedge design?

I know, I know...he won't say. 

"The future of the tournament, and the way a new generation is introduced to the game...rests in Payne's hands."

masters_payne_299x377.jpgMichael Bamberger on new Masters chairman Billy Payne:
It's a tricky thing, what Payne wants to pull off. Frank Chirkinian, the famously innovative former producer of the Masters telecast for CBS, has described the tournament as great theater on the world's most beautiful stage, with amazing characters and an unknown outcome. For years it has been delicious. Too many lay-up shots out of the rough could kill the delicate balance of brawn and touch that made the thing so special in the first place. Too much exposure could too. The Internet is many things, but grand it's not. The future of the tournament, and the way a new generation is introduced to the game, to some significant degree rests in Payne's hands. He says that making good decisions is all about having a vision, listening well and "surrounding yourself with a good team." Clifford Roberts would never have said it that way, but he would have thought it. The new guy has the same mandate that Roberts did. Billy Payne's not trying to sell a thing-except a great game, a spring golf tournament and the club that hosts it.

The War Of The Members?

A trusted Augusta insider offered this on the abrupt departure of Hootie Johnson and subsequent Billy Payne appointment:

There is a political power struggle, with two distinct factions. Hootie is on your side about equipment and Billy Payne is as well.  There is a younger more corporate group that has a different view of things. The membership knew there was a new Chairman coming but no one was sure who it would be. Hootie stepped aside so that the dwindling majority could put Billy in while they still had the power, and as you and others have picked up on, Billy is just 58 years old. He's going to be there for a while.

Hootie has tried to put pressure on the USGA to do something about the ball, and is frustrated nothing has happened, but feels he can't effect change on this issue. Billy is not in favor of today's equipment and specifically the golf ball. Augusta has been holding back in bringing out their own golf ball or their own ball spec in order to not embarrass the USGA.  But Augusta has given the USGA long enough to correct the golf ball situation to no avail. Billy will not hesitate to move ahead with their own golf ball spec, and maybe very soon. Also, it makes it easier for Billy to bring out the ball rollback without piling more criticism onto Hootie, who has dealt with a mountain of criticism already.

So if true, which side are USGAers Fred Ridley, Walter Driver and Jim Reinhardt on in this power struggle?

If the "Distance Myths" memo is our guide, perhaps they aren't on Hootie's side.