Featured Golf News
Chairman Payne Talks about Masters
Billy Payne has been the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club since 2006. The 63-year-old native of Georgia has enjoyed a long and distinguished career both in sports and finance.
Before taking the helm at Augusta National, Payne was the CEO of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Generally considered as the person most responsible for allowing more television coverage of the Masters and as well introducing such technological advances as HD and 3-D television for the first time this year, Payne has also understood the value of the Internet, expanding www.masters.com into a website with far more bandwidth and features than before he took the club's helm.
On Wednesday, Payne met with the media and discussed the condition of the course, which will host the 75th playing of the Masters on Thursday, as well as other initiatives the club is supporting. Here's what Chairman Payne had to say to the gathered reporters during an extensive Q&A.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good morning, everyone. I'm Billy Payne and it's my pleasure on behalf of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, to welcome you all back here as we celebrate the 75th playing of the Masters. Joining me here today are Fred Ridley, Chairman of our Competition Committees, and of course, Mr. Craig Heatley, Chairman of our Media Committee. Tomorrow, for the 75th time, we are again honored to welcome the golfing world to Augusta, where 50 years ago we rejoiced as Gary Player became our first international champion; and 25 years ago, we all witnessed the miraculous age-defying victory of our great champion, Jack Nicklaus.
The combination of the world's best players, fans and patrons who love and respect these environs and members of the media who have brought the Masters emotion and excitement to life through your descriptive words all play important and much-appreciated roles as we mark the traditional beginning of spring. We began officially on March 22, 1934, the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament resulted in a one-stroke victory by Horton Smith, our first champion. Born from the dreams of our founders and a dedicated membership, who shared a mutual love for this wonderful game, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts annually gathered the world's greatest players, and with a strong emphasis on amateur participation, conducted a 72-hole stroke-play competition over four days, provided complimentary parking, spectator booklets and pairing sheets for our patrons, insisted on limited commercialization, all very strong mandates that we continue to embrace.
Notwithstanding the important appearances of Bobby Jones in the early years, the Tournament struggled and lacked the worldwide interest, media exposure and general recognition that we have now come to enjoy. Despite the financial difficulties that then existed, and in the midst of the Great Depression, it was amazingly decided from the very beginning that enhancements and improvements must be compulsory. As Mr. Roberts would often say, "No public event ever stands still, but gets either better or worse."
Therefore, included in the rich tradition that defines this tournament are the elements of constant and perpetual improvement, necessary development and uncompromising progress. While some years the list is longer than others, trying to get better is simply a part of who we are at the Masters. Since that inaugural year, we selected a permanent date, published qualifications, reversed the nines, came to be known as the Masters Tournament. In the ensuing years, we have always tried hard to be on the leading edge of sports production and technological innovation, from concessions to television broadcast, from roped fairways to the Internet to Quonset huts to state-of-the-art facilities, our work never ends.
So as is our annual practice, in the 360 days since the 2010 Masters ended, we have been operating under the same presumption established by Mr. Roberts, and generally embraced by all chairmen who have followed; to try to get better every year. This year our patrons and guests, entering at our southern-most gate, our back door on Berckmans Road will now benefit from an arrival experience similar to that which we unveiled at our main entrance Gate 6 two years ago. Patron parking that was displaced as a consequence of this new construction has been relocated to newly-developed spaces across Berckmans Road.
I hope you've noticed that directly across from Magnolia Lane, we have removed a previously unused structure and beautified significant property along Washington Road. We think the result not only benefits Augusta National's perimeter but enhances the community all year long. And after its successful debut last year, we made a small but I think important change to our Tournament practice area. This year our patrons will take advantage of a permanent seating structure with upgraded seats that complements the beautiful environment and will hopefully add to the enjoyment of watching the best players in the world practice for our tournament.
Regarding our golf course and as is our custom, we made some modifications to enhance its overall playability. Last summer we sand-capped the fairway of No. 10 to facilitate better drainage. We also improved the agronomics on two greens on the course. We rebuilt and regrassed No. 11 and 17 and added heating and cooling systems. During the rebuild, we restored hole locations in the middle portion of hole No. 11 and the right-center area of hole No. 17, both of which had become too severe for Tournament play. We hope these improvements illustrate our continuing desire to provide a fair, yet challenging test, for our skillful players.
So how will the course play this year? Well, I'm confident that we have done all that we can do, and I am once again very proud of the skillful work of Marsh Benson and his entire, very capable staff for his tireless preparations of our grounds. So if the weather cooperates, and it appears that it will, and given the course's superb current conditioning, we are eager to once again witness the masterful play of our invitees, hopefully once again accompanied by the enthusiastic roars of our patrons reverberating through these Georgia pines.
As you will all have read this week, we announced an improvement to our ticketing process whereby those interested in attending the Masters, beginning in 2012, must now register online. We view the Internet as an accepted, safe, efficient and convenient way for golf fans to apply for our random selection process; which, for 2012 will include all practice round tickets, and for the first time in many, many years, a limited number of daily tournament round tickets. The Internet will in time also affect the application for our existing series badge holders. This group of patrons, who will continue to be the overwhelming majority of our tournament round attendees, will receive word later this year about our plans to bring their yearly renewal process online, as well.
We continue to work hard on our Internet presence. Our website offers the many options that its visitors have come to expect: Live, high-definition quality video, real-time scores and comprehensive coverage. But this year we have added groundbreaking enhancements with up to nine live video feeds and some truly amazing beauty sequences showcasing Augusta National at its best. We have extended this principle and the expansive content to our mobile applications on the iPhone and Android-based platforms refined for other browser-based experiences with other Smartphones. In addition, we unveiled the first Masters iPad application last week, and I personally experienced and participated in its development, and I think it is a truly unique and immersive experience that we believe will provide the perfect viewing companion for our weekend television broadcast.
As I've said before over the last several years, to the extent that emerging technology is allowed, the development of digital media will continue to be a part of our larger communications efforts and will hopefully present the Masters and the great game of golf in a unique and exciting manner. To further this initiative and after three years of hard work, you are all aware that we announced an exciting new venture in the world of video gaming earlier this year. This decision was completely based on our motivation to positively influence the growth and visibility of the sport of golf. Playing video games is a popular entertainment choice for kids today, and our involvement just may, we hope, inspire greater appreciation for golf, and in turn, encourage participation.
To further add to our commitment, the entirety of our proceeds from this game will be given to our newly-created Masters Tournament Foundation with the hope and expectation that these additional resources, together with those historically generated by the Masters Tournament, will enhance our opportunity to support the growth of the game domestically and around the world. Along with the current significant contributions we already invest in golf development programs, the video game now joins the Asian Amateur Championship, our Junior Patron Program, our kid-friendly Par 3 Competition, as examples of our efforts to inspire participation in the game we all love.
We welcome with open arms Mr. Hideki Matsuyama this week as the impressive winner of our second Asian Amateur Championship conducted last fall in Japan, and we eagerly look forward to the third Asian Amateur Championship this upcoming fall in Singapore. We are indebted to the R&A and to the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation for allowing us to participate in this inspiring initiative. On the topic of Asia, I would like to offer our sympathy to the country of Japan for the terrible tragedy that occurred recently in March. Having seen the images and knowing that many of our friends and business associates were profoundly affected, we send our love and our hopes for a better tomorrow.
With that, I would like to welcome you all back once again to Augusta. Thank you for your coverage of our tournament, and Craig, I'm now ready for a few questions.
Q. As you know, we had a big storm blow through Tuesday morning. I wonder if that was a concern for and you if you could talk about any damage to the grounds or to the course itself.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, obviously it was a concern. We all were awakened about 3 o'clock in the morning, and the storm, as it was all over the county here, Richmond County, was truly horrible. We began assessing the damage immediately; within less than an hour, we had hundreds of people out here, not only assessing, but already beginning the cleanup. It was a Herculean effort, one that I think the talent and skill of our crew is really made for, to respond to difficult challenges, to be ready when we open the gates in just a few hours, to try to make it as unnoticeable as possible.
While we lost several trees, some very sadly, I was completely amazed, gratified and thankful for the response of our crew. And as a witness to their amazing work; it was inspiring, I'll tell you that. No permanent damage; a little difficulty on the 8th green but it's been fixed. I was told by one of the players yesterday that they couldn't tell that it had ever been damaged. So I think we are in pretty good shape.
Q. Mr. Chairman, can you talk about the timeline and your thoughts about opening up the tickets for daily sale? I have a feeling you're not going to tell me where the tickets came from.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No, I'll tell you where they came from. They came from attrition. We have a certain number every year; that because of the way we handle them, the death of the surviving spouse become available every year. So that's where they are coming from. We are not adding to the number of tickets. We have, in fact, somebody thought we would be adding just to do this; but, we have, in fact, reduced modestly the number of tickets we sold over the last five years. So it's just a supply of tickets that replenishes itself annually and predictably, and what you're not going to get is the exact number; but it's fair to define it as a significant number. We all talked about it and we decided that's the word we wanted to use, significant. (Laughter).
Q. You touched on your strong online presence, Tiger's video game; why is it so important to embrace these new technologies?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I think for two reasons. In the case of the video game and some other things that we have done and are considering, we want to use our resources and our capabilities to attract and interest kids in this game at an early age because we believe that will have the greatest long-term potential of making them lifetime advocates and lovers of the game of golf. As to the other technology, we have literally tens of millions or hundreds of millions of fans, who through recent times, really only last couple of years have themselves acquired the capability and capacity to see the Masters or component parts of the Masters in ways they have not been able to do so historically. And some of that is very entertaining; some of that complements the broadcast, and it's like everything we do, while we may not get there at the first attempt, but once we adopt a technology, we want to be the best that there is in that technology. And so that would be the end game, and hopefully through some of these attempts that we are beginning this year, and I'm certain in subsequent years, we will accomplish that objective.
Q. You're getting close to a field size of a hundred this year. Are you happy with the field size and are you looking at all at changing anything as it relates to the Tour Championship, FedEx Cup and the other criteria.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think, Doug, I would say that we are, of course, happy to have all hundred of them here. At the same time, looking at the number, freestanding, independent of the individuals who comprise it, it is difficult. It is a borderline to be able to present the kind of competition that we want to. It is more than we normally have; the most we have had in some 40-something years. We say every year in response to that question, that we look and we study the qualifications, which we do. But we are really going to look at it this year, because there is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and do it in a way that's manageable. The hundred pushes that limit quite significantly. So that's Fred's job. Fred's going to really get into that with Buzzy Johnson over the summer.
Q. Considering the constant change, technologically, the constant growth, would you consider Augusta National the leader when it comes to technology, among not only the four major championships, but in the game overall? And secondly, do you believe that that kind of growth, that kind of forward-thinking will indeed be your legacy as chairman?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Never thought of that last part. I don't know how to compare us relative to the other major championships. I think our approach has been quite different, however. And that is, we started out -- I'll take our Internet singularly to begin with. We started out with this long, verbose, horribly written memo that I did three years ago about, is it possible to be able to do this on the Internet. And it simply was trying to incorporate on the Internet the less-is-more concept that's kind of made the Masters famous and our simplicity, which was really the contradiction to the way the Internet was developing at the time.
And to me, that meant uncluttered, immense beauty, can you convey through some vehicle the experience that people feel the first time they walk on these grounds, and I'm not sure that's possible. But I think if you spend some time with our Internet site this year, it's pretty doggone good. And so, it's a completely different approach to the Internet that I hope is well received. We'll continue to make it better. But I think it's consistent with what Augusta has meant to so many people for so many years, and how it relates to the others really doesn't matter, because it's got to meet our standards. While we are not quite there yet, we are getting better.
Q. And won't that be what people think of when they think of Billy Payne years from now?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know. I have no idea.
Q. A year ago, you sat up there and talked about Tiger Woods egregious conduct and talked about how disappointed the club was in his behavior the previous year. A year later his name is associated with Augusta National in this video game. Can you take us through the thought process in how you decided to associate yourself back with him?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, as I said last year, Len, we continue to believe Tiger is one of the greatest golfers of all-time, and we hoped and prayed that his comeback would go forward in a very positive way. We embraced EA after much research on the video game side. Tiger has an exclusive arrangement with them. When we embraced the game some two years ago, we took as the partnership of us, EA and Tiger. We are very proud of that. It has, in its very early days, has proven to be an enormous success, and we think will very significantly impact the kids in a very positive way, and be very beneficial to our new foundation that we have created, as well.
Q. You mentioned in your opening remarks about the legacy of the amateur participation in the Masters Tournament. I wonder if you can expand on that and talk about the importance, relative importance of amateurs to the success of the Masters.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Larry, I would think -- what I know with that subject, not being a competitive golfer myself, it's what I read about Bobby Jones and about how he in so many ways exemplified all that was great about golf; choosing himself to remain as an amateur, even in the early days of our Tournament, including and embracing amateurs as an important component. And that is our legacy. So if he as our inspiration believed it was such an important part of this Tournament, then it's always going to be that. And I think any chairman, as a preliminary to serving here, would espouse the significant contribution of amateur participation at Augusta National.
Q. With the proceeds that are going to be generated for this foundation through the video game and other things, are you thinking about expanding possibly what you've done with the Asian Amateur to other continents, possibly South America or Africa, or will the field size be too large to possibly add other amateur qualifiers?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Two different questions. It's too early in the probative stage about using our partnership with the R&A to see how we can inspire the growth of the game. We chose Asia as a very fertile ground; so far, the results are very promising. It's still way to early to decide if the concept, if the team can be transported to another location. I think we would all say that that would be great if it could, but we are a long way away from that I think.
Q. You preside as chairman of an organization with a lot of moving parts, but renowned for its efficiency. Can you describe your management style?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: (Chuckling). You can look on the wall (indicating Members of Augusta National), and I surround myself with incredibly capable people, and encourage them to be the best. That's it.
Q. Would you have foreseen the popularity jump in the Par 3 Contest since it's been televised? It seems that it has at this point become almost as anticipated as the tournament is.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That's good news. I know that the players seem to like it more. I think we have a totally full field, don't we, Fred? They like it because they can showcase their kids, their kids like it, and it's fun. Some of them play some pretty good golf. Some of them just have fun. I think it is entertainment before the seriousness of the following four days, and everybody has bought into it, and I think the product itself on TV is a great product. So I would expect that the popularity would continue to grow.
Q. Do you envision a day when your cutting edge technology will extend to the golf course? I'll give you the Players Championship, with video and informational screens and so forth.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No, sir, I don't. We already have cutting-edge technology, but most of it is buried underground. (Laughter). I don't think, at least in my tenure, you're not going to see any video boards or those kind of things out there.
Q. To follow up on Scott's question, do you envision with the creation of the Foundation, and the expected, I would assume, more revenue from the video game, that the club would be giving to more organizations, or giving more to the organizations it already does?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Both. I would expect that it would be very successful through time, and that it would allow us to increase the giving we currently give domestically and look for other opportunities where it has a direct impact on growing the game. But we'll do that slow. We'll do like most people do a foundation. You kind of let it build up before you spend all of the money. I think it will be a significant resource.
Q. Billy, you had a go at the new game; how did you score?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: My grandson, Bo -- let's see, I quit after nine holes. (Laughter) I told him my back was hurting. He was up seven in our match play.
Q. How old is he?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Bo is 12. (Laughter).
Q. How do you spell Bo?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: B-O.
Q. I believe they lost a Magnolia tree on Magnolia Lane?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Yes.
Q. Has that been replaced or going to be replaced?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I should say we don't know yet. 150-year-old Magnolias are in short supply for transplanting. (Laughter). We were all very much saddened by that, and we will make the best out of a difficult situation. We will deal with it somehow but we just haven't decided how to do it yet.
Q. Regarding the lottery for tickets, the online lottery, what kind of odds are you looking at? What kind of response do you expect? Is it a one-in-a-million shot or one-in-a-hundred?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know. All of these experts we have are saying you are going to get X, Y and Z, and I wouldn't tell you those numbers, but I will tell you that we already get hundreds of thousands of requests, the old, simple mail-it-in way. It's not a real good chance, but it's a chance. (Laughter) And it's easy to apply; you have to go to the post office.
Q. Historically, the price of tickets and badges has been very undervalued at this tournament, and despite incremental changes through the years, I think judging from what I saw on the online application, that it looks like there might be a 50 percent increase next year in the cost of a tournament badge or a daily ticket. What's the reasoning behind that? Is that something you thought y'all needed to do?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm looking around the room, because that figure doesn't quite sound right. Is that correct? Oh, you're talking about the practice round tickets? What are they, 30 or 40 dollars or something like that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: They are still a very good bargain. We just raise them periodically. We have to cover some of the costs. But they remain, I think, quite a value.
Q. Billy said you are going to be in charge of looking at the field size; do you have any initial thoughts on how you're going to handle it and what you're going to look at, or do you have to see what happens this year to proceed?
FRED RIDLEY: Well, he didn't really mean that. (Laughter). As we have said before, we do look at the qualifications every year. We do have our largest field this year since 1966, and we had 103 players back in '66, and we are at 99 this year, which is trending up a little bit from the last four or five years. One of the reasons is we have had a little bit of an anomaly in that we have had ten players this year who qualified by virtue of winning, only by virtue of winning a PGA Tour event, and that compares to four or five in the prior several years. That's been one of the reasons. But the trends vary every year, and we do look at that and we'll have a thorough evaluation after the tournament this year, and we'll make adjustments if we think it's necessary. But we are very happy with where we are now.
Q. Maybe this will go to a specific number and you don't like to talk about that in a lot of things, but is there a comfortable number for the field size?
FRED RIDLEY: Well, we are getting pretty close to the maximum. We have an issue with daylight obviously right now. Our pace of play is four hours and 38 minutes, but we all know from past observations that it's longer than that. So we don't have a lot of daylight after that last group finishes. We are pretty close to the maximum.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.