Payne, Augusta find plenty to smile about
AUGUSTA, Ga. In the afterglow of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition Sunday, Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Billy Payne was in a jovial mood at his annual news conference Wednesday.
With few controversial issues on the docket and a year of Adam Scott as Masters Champion, Payne spent most of his time discussing the success of the Drive, Chip and Putt contest having received numerous positive comments from members on the Sunday competition.
Extremely happy with the competition and due to the success, Payne expressed that next year’s event will be dramatically expanded to 250 qualifying venues in all 50 states and allowing more than 50,000 kids to compete for their opportunity to play at Augusta National.
“We have been hard at work since last April and we have purposefully accelerated our efforts to help grow the game of golf,” Payne said about Augusta’s desire to grow the game. “We are compelled to use our talent and our resources in that manner, because our founders would have it no other way.”
Payne traces Augusta National's desire to grow the game back to founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.
Entering its second year, the program is off to a rousing start with 17,000 participants already signed up for next year’s competition.
“What they embraced more than anything else was their duty and obligation to give back to the game, and so we feel that same mandate,” Payne said of founders Jones and Roberts. “And as long as we have the resources to do it, we're going to try to do it as best we can.”
Payne expressed his dismay of the loss of the Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole and while the tree was a strategic factor to the hole, the Chairman was more concerned about the loss of the link between President Eisenhower and the club.
With no specific plan to keep the connection between Eisenhower and Augusta National intact, Payne said that the club is in the process of determining how to commemorate the tree while taking into account The Eisenhower Library, the golf world, the club's Eisenhower Cabin, the 17th hole itself, all of the Past Champions, and members of Augusta National Golf Club.
Interestingly, Payne added some unusual facts about the loss of the tree.
“At the time it happened, I was in the Bahamas bone fishing,” Payne said. “I received the emergency call, got back as fast as I could. We required and received a multitude of opinions from some great arborists and botanists all over the country, frankly. You know, somebody's got to make the decision and when there was unanimity that it was not salvageable, we made the decision to take it down.”
When asked about the rules issues last year that included Tiger Woods and Tianlang Guan, Payne affirmed the decision that Masters officials took were the right ones, but at the same time the chairman understands that communication could have been better.
“I know that some of you disagree with the decision,” Payne said of the Woods ruling last year. “Nevertheless, I think it is important that we communicate quickly with people, as we have a serious matter under deliberation, and we're going to do that.”