Billy Payne Discusses Masters & Other Issues


Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, conducted his annual press conference on the eve of the Masters Tournament, which starts Thursday.

The 65-year-old Georgian, who took over the chairmanship in May 2006 from Hootie Johnson, addressed a number of issues, including changes to the criteria for eligibility for the year's first major (all PGA Tour winners will qualify in 2014, which will cause a reduction in the number of players with good finishes in the U.S. Open and Masters); the club's position on the proposed anchored putter ban (he deflected the question, saying Augusta National is a golf club and not a "governing body" and he'd like to see "that only one set of rules governs the game of golf"); their first female members (Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore); and how the club is helping promote golf to juniors through its Masters Tournament Foundation (it's working with the USGA and PGA of America on the Drive, Chip & Putt National Championship).

Here's the full transcript of Payne's wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome once again to the Masters. I'm Billy Payne, and I'm honored to be joined this morning by many of our committee chairmen throughout the audience, and especially Mr. Fred Ridley, chairman of our Competition Committees, and of course the long time chairman of our Media Committee, Mr. Craig Heatley. On behalf of all of our members, we are pleased to welcome you to this year's Masters and to present to you the 77th Masters Tournament. We all remember last year's tournament ended in a miraculous, some thought impossible shot, by our eventual winner, Bubba Watson. As you can imagine, just about every single guest who has been here since that day has dropped a ball in the woods attempting to duplicate that shot. Our opinion is unchanged: It was impossible.

But to Bubba, it was just his next challenge, and by staring it in the face, he realized his dreams of becoming a major champion, the Masters champion, and he showcased his wonderful game and his genuine emotions to millions watching around the world. Not long after the conclusion of last year's Tournament, the next day for most of us, we refocused our efforts upon our desire to do better. The endless pursuit of perfection established many years ago by our founders, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. While continuous improvement to our club takes time and takes many forms, I think it always happens, and it always will, because our founders would have it no other way.

As many of you heard earlier this week, our Masters Tournament Foundation has extended its ongoing commitment to help grow the game by announcing a new partnership with our friends at the USGA and the PGA of America. Together and equally, we have created the Drive, Chip & Putt National Championship that through a series of qualifiers will bring many talented young players, boys and girls from around the country, to Augusta National Golf Club next April immediately before the Masters for the finals of the competition.

Our mission here is very simple: To get kids interested, to get them excited and get them motivated to play this great game. For decades, the world's greatest professionals have dreamed of sinking the winning putt on our 18th green. Now that dream will be extended, shared and experienced, by kids here at Augusta National. And more importantly, it will be seen by millions of other young boys and girls, who are in the process of making important lifetime choices of sports and activities they wish to embrace.

This initiative is only our latest attempt to lend support to the game's advancement by partnering with important golf organizations all over the world. We have promised to lead or to follow; it doesn't matter. Our industry must continue to address the critical issues of the sport's declining participation among youth and we simply want to help. And we salute the efforts of the USGA, the PGA of America, the R&A, and the PGA Tour and the LPGA for their efforts in growing the game and for allowing us the honor of participating.

Now, before going any further, and because I think you're interested, we would like to reaffirm the enthusiasm we expressed last August when we announced that Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore had become members of Augusta National Golf Club. They are both here this week, like so many of our members, working as hard as they can, to make sure that all of our guests have an experience that exceeds their highest expectations.

At the time we described that welcoming Condi and Darla as members of Augusta National represented a joyous occasion for the club. This week that's truer than ever, and I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as Members of our club, has been every bit as rewarding and enjoyable for them over the last eight months, as it has been for their fellow members. It's just awesome. This year, we welcome a field of 93 competitors from 21 countries, 19 past champions, 17 first time participants and six amateurs, including historically, by virtue of his win in the 2012 Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, 14 year old Tianlang Guan, now the youngest competitor in Masters history.

Guan's qualification and participation in the Masters is an excellent example of why we and the R&A began the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship four years ago, to create heroes in that region who would inspire others to take up the game. No doubt, millions of kids across Asia will be following him this week, and by doing so, begin their introduction to the great game of golf. In recent years, our field of participating players has grown, as I've said repeatedly, we annually examine our invitation criteria in order to maintain Bobby Jones's desire to keep the Masters an intimate gathering of the world's best competitors and to afford all players a reasonable expectation of completion in the reduced hours of sunlight in early spring.

During the past 12 months, we have gained a more complete understanding of the modifications to the PGA Tour schedule and have made appropriate changes to our qualifications to adhere to our founders' philosophy. As many of you know, I have been personally fully committed to players gaining entry to the tournament after winning a PGA Tour event. All of us take great pride and pleasure in seeing a tournament winner beam with pride and excitement knowing that his victory had earned him an invitation to the Masters.

This, of course, has recently come with the caveat, that the events provide a full point allocation for the season ending Tour championship. With the PGA Tour's new schedule structure changing later this year, I'm happy to announce that our qualification of tournament winners will continue, including for those who win the events providing full points in the fall. With the reality thereby of adding competitors to our field, we have decided to amend three of our qualifications in an effort to maintain similar field size for the 2014 Tournament. First, the top 12, no longer the top 16, from the Masters, will earn invitations.

Second, the top 4, no longer the top 8, from the U.S. Open, will earn invitations. This is now consistent with the qualifications criteria we allocate for the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. Finally, we will be removing the year end Top 30 PGA Tour money list winners from our qualifications. There is another important and I think positive new development beginning immediately and affecting this year's tournament. At the conclusion of the first two rounds, we will be increasing our cut to 50 players and ties, plus those within ten strokes of the leader.

As you may know, our cut was implemented in 1957, taking the top-40 players and ties. In 1962, it was increased to 44, but now, more than 50 years later, we believe offering more playing opportunities for the participants over the weekend is a positive for everyone involved; for the world's best players wishing to compete over four rounds; for our Patrons enjoying the Tournament here on site; and for those golf fans watching at home through our expansive worldwide television broadcast and our continually improving online digital platforms.

With respect to our golf course this year, I can only say, it's wonderful. Perfect winter conditions, generous rain, and the hard work of Marsh Benson and his team have combined for a fair, but worthy challenge, for these great players. Weather cooperating, I believe we can be in for a thrilling finish, similar to those we have enjoyed in recent years. Over the summer, we rebuilt and re-grassed our 14th green, which included the addition of heating and cooling systems beneath its surface. No other significant change was made to the golf course.

And now I'd like to recognize someone very important among us. This evening, Craig will be presenting Renton Laidlaw our Masters Major Achievement Award. A few years ago we established this award to celebrate your colleagues who have been a part of the Masters tradition and lore for 40 Masters Tournaments. Renton is the first international recipient, and I could not be happier to honor such a delightful man whose devotion to the game goes far beyond his coverage of any tournament. Where is Renton? Renton, congratulations to you. (Applause).

And finally, another very special man must be recognized for his 35 years of service to Augusta National Golf Club. Our retiring executive director, Jim Armstrong, has worked with every chairman of our club except Mr. Roberts. As all of you know, Bobby Jones gave us instant credibility in the world of golf. Clifford Roberts established a compelling culture of attention to even the smallest detail. But it was Jim Armstrong more than any other person who built our reputation for excellence and execution. Jim, thank you, and God bless you. (Applause). With that, Mr. Heatley, I'm ready for a few easy questions (laughter).

Q. Mr. Payne, when you got together and created the Asia Pacific Amateur, did you think you would see a day where an eighth grader would play in the Masters?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Wow, Doug, we started that initiative with the R&A four years ago, and we started with, I think, the simple objective of creating heroes whose success would inspire others to become involved in the game in an area, Asia Pacific area, that we believed was very fertile for growth in the game of golf. Really, the only place in the world where active golf construction is going on; an emerging middle class of some 200 million people a year. And so we thought if we could create heroes that we would have the opportunity to jump start the game of golf. So that's the answer I was going to give, hoping somebody asked the question. But a simple answer, no, I had no idea of a 14 year old (laughter).

Q. Do you have any plans to expand on that concept?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It's been very successful. The success has far exceeded our expectations, and so I think it would be not proper if we did not consider whether we could duplicate that success in other parts of the world. So we are currently in the process of thinking about that; I'm sure quite a ways away from the decision. You know, it's a powerful combination of the R&A presence and their long history of golf and the resources and the excitement that we can bring to it, so we are studying it.

Q. I was just looking over your news release from August about the new members and as you mentioned, you called it a joyous occasion, the only thing missing are exclamation points. I wonder if you would share your personal thoughts about this announcement?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It didn't have an exclamation point in it?

Q. I didn't see one.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: The way we felt about it, it should have. We have been very excited about it. We are very excited and proud of all of our members. These two ladies have been very special and it's just been delightful.

Q. Mr. Chairman, can you share some insight in that your obvious love and reverence for the game and the club and the tournament, yet as evidenced by at announcement earlier this week, you are not afraid to make changes and move forward. The thought process about how you balance that love and reverence, and when it's time for change.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, I really don't characterize much of what we've done as change. What we've done is do what we're supposed to do, and that is to be a beacon in the world of golf and to do our best to influence others to want to be a part of it. And so we have been blessed with significant resources; we have been blessed with a great history given to us by our founders, and every time we can take those resources and that reputation and do something good for golf, we are anxious to do it. And I don't call that change; I call that doing what our founder and all chairman have done historically in the past.

Q. Mr. Chairman, there was a long comment period from the USGA and the R&A about the anchored putting situation that didn't include this press conference in that time period, but everybody else, all of the other governing bodies and associations have sort of expressed their opinions. What is the club's opinion on the anchored putting?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: First, Scott, we are not a governing body. We are a golf club that puts on a tournament, so we wouldn't be presumptuous to say that we have that kind of influence. Given the fact that the ruling bodies have not yet declared a decision following that open comment period, I do think it would be inappropriate for us to express an opinion; other than to say, other than to say, that we hope and believe that they can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules.

Q. Mr. Chairman, Berckmans Place seems to be something that is so successful, yet we don't really know much about it. Can you kind of enlighten us a little, since we don't have access to the facility?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Yes, sir. Well, as we've said before, the Berckmans Place came out, it was in response to decades, decades, of requests by companies with whom we have been affiliated and sometimes for 50 years, for an upgraded level of hospitality. They were going elsewhere to get it. They wanted us to be able to produce it for them, because they hoped that they would receive thereby the quality that Augusta National would put into it and the excellence and execution that I just mentioned. And so to accommodate the wishes of those companies compounded over decades, and our own Members asking us to be able to do that for companies with whom they were associated or affiliated, we decided to build it. And it's only two days old, but I think it's going to be quite a success.

Q. 2024 Atlanta is going to try to host the Olympics once again. Wonder if you'll be involved and you'll make Augusta National available -

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: 2000 and what?

Q. 24.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Let me get a pencil.

Q. Would you make Augusta National available as you proposed back in the '86 Olympics?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, a couple of things there. I won't be chairman of Augusta National in 2024, so you'd have to guess on who the chairman is going to be and ask him that question, because he would be the one to make the decision. So I'm not going to propose to make it for him. It was a good idea when we had it. We tried to do it, and Augusta National at that time was wonderful in agreeing to do it for the Atlanta Games. It ran into all of the politics. We didn't have time to mess with it because we were busy, and we didn't do it.

Q. Mr. Chairman, many places in Augusta have banned smoking, from hospitals to college campuses; have you all discussed a smoking ban, and what are your feelings about it?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm not really sure what we - I think we restrict it to certain areas. I'm not quite up to speed with that, I'm sorry.

Q. I think they can smoke wherever not in the grandstands, but course wide other than that.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, you know more about it than I do.

Q. Are you okay with it or would you rather get rid of it?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'd rather think about it before I answer that. I'm not prepared to do that.

Q. Back to the female members. Is it for other clubs now to follow suit? You used the word "beacon," is it for other clubs to follow the light?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, that would be their decision. We have chosen to do what we did, and I wouldn't propose to issue an opinion for those other clubs.

Q. Do you think they should, though?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think they should do what they want to do, and I would not interject the way I feel on the issue.

Q. Mr. Chairman, you have in the field a former champion, Vijay Singh, who admitted in January to using a substance that the PGA Tour has banned. Given the fact that this club plays holds a leadership position in the game, why are you allowing him to compete in the field this week?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, Karen, we are supporters of the World Golf Foundation's anti doping policy, and under their current rules and regulations, he is currently qualified to participate, and we follow those rules, so he's going to participate here.

Q. Mr. Payne, would the club consider putting a plaque or some sort of mark at the spot where Bubba hit his shot on No. 10?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, I don't know, we haven't talked about that. I guess I don't know the answer to that. I think we'd have to get a little more time to see how history remembers that before we would make that decision.

Q. Yesterday Jack Nicklaus sat there and called you a forward thinker. In years past when we've asked you about the female members, you've always deferred it as a membership issue and one you don't discuss. Today, obviously -

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It still is that.

Q. You've given us names or whatever. So I guess I'm curious if for you personally, do you consider yourself a forward thinker, and in light of that, would you comment, with all due respect, what took so long, and for you, if you - if it was difficult for you to have to wait that long.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, I think that question gets into the process that we took and the time that we took, and other than to say that it took - it went about the same process and the same amount of time as any other member; beyond that, I wouldn't have any comment on that.

Q. Mr. Payne, and perhaps Fred, you could address this, too, do you think you can construct a balance in the difficulty of the course between the winning score of 1 over in 2007 and then the scores since then; are you comfortable with what kind of test you're offering these guys while still giving the opportunities to create some drama on the weekend?

FRED RIDLEY: Sure. If you look back at some of the years you're referring to where we did have some higher scores, the main factor that played into that was weather. Philosophically, we go into every Masters Tournament really with the same approach, and that is to strike a balance each day with regard to distance the golf course plays to hole locations. The golf course is prepared to be as consistent as possible with previous years, and also consistent as possible from day to day starting on Monday when the players arrive. So I think we have struck that balance and I hope that we'll feel that way at the end of the week. I think we will.

Q. Mr. Chairman, you said it would be inappropriate to comment on the anchoring, the proposed anchoring ban. Does that mean that you endorse the USGA and R&A Rules of Golf so that if they were to go forward with the ban, you would support?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That means, sir, what I said, and that is that we hope and believe that common ground will be achieved so that only one set of rules governs the game of golf.

Q. The beacon that we talked about, the awesome moment that you're talking about right now, what do you hope the message is from Augusta? And again, I know sometimes you don't want to talk about certain internal issues, but there's so much attention on this; you talk about it as a joyous occasion, awesome; what do you hope people get -

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Are you talking about the ladies issue?

Q. The inclusion of these two women.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, people can take what they want to. We admitted them because they are two great members of the club, and we are all looking forward to increasing our relationships with these wonderful ladies and I hope they are having as much fun as they are.

Q. You can see that we are struggling for controversy. Do you miss the controversy? (Laughter).

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Do you have a question, Rick? (Laughter).

Q. Over the years you've gradually put more of the tournament on TV, there's online streaming now, various holes, featured groups. Just curious, a couple of things, is there any thought to expand it? There seems to be an appetite for all day, all day long, and there is some consternation out there about the fact that, for example, people won't get to see Tiger tomorrow because he's not in the TV window and he's not one of the featured groups. I wonder if you can address that.

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, you can't put he's in the featured group on Friday, and because you flip, you flip them, the tee times, you can't be in the featured group both days. So he's in the featured group tomorrow. He's in the TV window both days, one day shorter than the other, but, you know, he's in pretty good shape as far as people that want to see him. That's an age old question, Bob, about how much TV is enough. We have through time expanded a little bit, and you know, we know everybody wants more. And we know we're at the beginning of what digital platforms can do for you in terms of having your own control over the experience, and we are right in the middle of all that trying to learn.

But you know, I think it's fair to say that one of the tenets that we hold to most dearly is that, you know, it is limited. And I think because it is, it makes it a little more special. And so we always have that delicate balance about people wanting more and how much more we are willing to do, and at the same time, exploring the future into how content is going to be distributed. So that's the extent of my technology.

Q. Mr. Payne, when you first took over in 2006, did you sort of have a list of things maybe in your mind or on a legal pad that you hoped to get accomplished, and if so, how far through that list are you?

CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No, sir, when I took over, I didn't know anything about being chairman of Augusta National. I think the ideas began to evolve as I became aware of the immense talent that we have here; not only with our staff but among the members who have this fire in their belly and passion for Augusta National, and who are willing to contribute their very significant intellect to the manifestation of what we all want the Masters to be. And so you take all of that power, and all of these resources and talent, and we ought to be able to be pretty good. And so what I have done is just kind of pointed them in a direction and turned them loose and I think, I hope, that over that period of time we have all seen pretty special results about how the Tournament has improved and hope that continues into the future.

MODERATOR: He's also being pretty modest. That's a good point to finish on. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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