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April 8, 2015
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, and as always I want to welcome you back to the Masters for this, the 79th playing of our Tournament.
I'm joined today by many of our committee chairmen along the back row, all of whom have important roles to play in the conduct of our Tournament, especially, including Mr.Fred Ridley, Chairman of our Competition Committees, and of course our long‑term media chairman, Mr.Craig Heatley.
Since last year's tournament, we have been working very hard, trying to do our best to positively address the mandate of continuous improvement established by beloved cofounders, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.
While perhaps it's a simple goal to describe, the execution is a bit more complicated.Â But we know that we must do everything possible to ensure the enjoyment of our Patrons during the Tournament and our fans across the world.Â As you know, doing the best we can do, now includes a growing emphasis on our efforts to help others grow the game.
This past fall at the renowned Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, we were once again honored to partner with the R&A and the APGC as we successfully conducted the sixth Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship.
Through the years, I believe that we have significantly increased the interest in our game throughout that important region of the world, and in doing so, we have learned so much from the example and the inspiration of the R&A, and for that, we are extremely grateful.
Just this past January, again, with the R&A, we organized the inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship in Buenos Aries, this time, importantly, welcoming as a partner, the United States Golf Association.Â It was a great success, and hopefully through time, we'll introduce the fun and excitement of our game to kids throughout Latin America.
And I know many of you are able to see it in person, and hopefully others watched this last Sunday's second edition of the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals here at Augusta National.Â Thanks principally to the United States Golf Association and the The PGA of America, it was once again a smashing success, and continues to exceed our expectations.Â Whether measured by the remarkable golfing skills of these kids, or the countless smiles and high‑fives we constantly exchanged, the Drive, Chip & Putt is playing an important role in creating interest in our game among the youth all across America.
And so, we invite all kids and their parents to sign up for next year's competition simply by visiting drivechipandputt.com.
So as we try hard to contribute to the future health of the game, so, too, must we appropriately remember its past.Â As all of you know, last year we lost an iconic symbol of Augusta National Golf Club, the famous Eisenhower Tree, which connected us to our beloved member, U.S. President, Dwight David Eisenhower, was lost and sadly the victim of an ice storm.
Since then, we have been challenged to create an appropriate lasting memory of this tree, because we wanted to make a special gift to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and to create a permanent legacy here at Augusta National.
So I am pleased now to present this beautiful cross‑section of the Eisenhower Tree.
(Beautiful glass case revealed with cross‑section of Eisenhower Tree).
Many months in the making to mitigate against normal shrinking, cracking and twisting, it will remain here throughout tournament week and will make its way to Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas where it will be placed on permanent, public display.Â A similar and final cross‑section will remain here at Augusta.
And while we know, the Eisenhower Tree is irreplaceable in terms of its historical significance, I am pleased to announce that we have been successful, so far, in preserving this famous tree's genetics.
What you now see are three surviving, and so far thriving results, of two successful grass and one seedling of the Eisenhower Tree.Â Not surprisingly, they have already become some of our most loved and cherished possessions here at Augusta National.
And while we learned last year that the absence of the Ike's Tree from the 17th fairway did not impact scoring average on the hole, who knows what the future holds or what future Chairman might decide to do with these priceless specimens.
For now, we as a membership, we watch, we wait, and we remember all of the many great stories surrounding this revered part of our history.
Last night, I once again enjoyed attending the Champion's Dinner and spending time with all of our impressive champions.Â For the first time, we gathered without our great friend and champion, Billy Casper, a gentleman to the core.Â We expressed our condolences to Billy's loving family and all who enjoyed and celebrated his illustrious career.Â His legacy will always occupy a special place here at the Masters.
We also recognized and saluted Ben Crenshaw who, as you know, has announced that this will be his final year of competition, spanning 44 consecutive years; Ben's amazing career here at the Masters has made him one of our lasting heros.Â And for this, his special year, we were excited when he accepted our invitation to join Jack and Gary in the Par 3 Contest, which, as you know, begins shortly.Â And we eagerly and hopefully await Arnold's return to the Par 3 next year and look forward to his participation in the Honorary Starter ceremony tomorrow morning.
And for his final appearance, Ben joins 96 other competitors from 26 countries, including 18 additional past champions, seven amateurs, and 20 first‑time participants.Â And as we begin this week, I hope you've already noticed, and I'm pleased to confirm, that our golf course has never been more beautiful.Â Many thanks to Marsh Benson and his very talented staff for his dedication and hard work.
In short, we believe our golf course is prepared to our exacting specifications.Â Weather permitting, the course should once again identify the best player and produce a winner worthy of a green jacket and the title of Masters Champion.
As you know, our course changes since last April were minimal.Â Work throughout the year was primarily focused on recovery and replanting after the ice storm of a year ago.Â And we do not believe the residual impact of that storm will significantly affect play for this year's tournament.Â And we also at Augusta National and the Masters remain particularly grateful to our entire team of broadcasters who bring the Masters to fans in over 200 countries around the world.Â We specifically congratulate and celebrate CBS for their long‑term commitment to the Masters, as this year marks their 60th consecutive Masters broadcast.
And we also salute Tokyo Broadcasting, who will broadcast the tournament in Japan this year for their 40th consecutive year.
Finally, and as we have said many, many times before, we remain committed to delivering the Masters to our fans in the manner in which they choose to receive it.Â Accordingly, we continue to work on and to improve, hopefully perfect, our digital offerings through Masters.com and other smartphone and tablet audiences.
We are currently developing a streaming capability which in the future will allow us to alter our normal online programming schedule to supplement and expand it in order to respond to special and compelling situations on the golf course.
So before I close, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize a very important member of the press here with us again this week.Â This evening, our Masters Major Achievement Award will be presented to Mr.Marino Parascenzo.Â As you know, this award acknowledges those of you who have been instrumental in telling the story of the Masters for more than 40 years.
Marino, congratulations and thank you (applause).
Thanks again to all of you for coming.Â And Craig, I'm ready for a few questions.
CRAIG HEATLEY:Â Thank you, Mr.Chairman.Â Just a note that the images that you see on the screen will be made available at the end of the press conference.
Q.Â Billy, you've spent a lot of time in this room over the years, we all have, talking about growing the game of golf.Â You also have, of course, a great love of the Olympics and wanted to bring golf to the Atlanta Olympics and that didn't quite work out.Â There have been stops and starts, fits and starts with Rio and golf, and of course we know the Olympics calendar is very crowded and it's hard to make air and give it attention.Â How important is it to grow the game of golf for Olympic golf, for the Olympics to get it right; that it comes off without a hitch and that men and women are portrayed as sportsmen and able to show the best parts of the game?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â A very good and relevant question.Â First of all, the complexity, the difficulty, the fits and starts of building any sports venue for any Olympics is a constative story.
As you know, they're never going to be ready; this won't be done; this won't be done; somehow it all comes together in the ends.Â And that is, in fact, the report I'm hearing specifically about golf and I've heard some very strong compliments recently about the design of the proposed Olympic course.
As to its ability to impact the growth of the game, I'm a proponent, if you start giving important worldwide recognition and prizes to a specific sport in the Olympics, the countries who feel they have a chance to win, will invest more in that specific sport.Â It will become in their consciousness that they need to compete.
I remember specifically when Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games, they started winning medals in their own games that they did not even participate in at the time of the award of the games.Â I suspect because important medals are given out, that the funds supporting golf around the world for its development will increase significantly, and it's going to be a very positive development.
Q.Â I'm just curious, when Tiger was here last week, did you get a chance to speak with him and what was your reaction when he decided to play?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â I did spend a good bit of time with him on the practice range, and I snuck out there a few times in the woods to watch him play (laughter).
One of my closest friends was playing with him; I was really watching him, my jamboree partner.Â So I was checking.Â They kept telling me how great a player he was.Â Tiger's caddie was effusively complimentary of my jamboree partner.
So we talked; Tiger, had a great conversation.Â Talked about his health and the excitement of the Masters.Â When he finally said, what, four or five days later, I was of course, thrilled, as was everybody else.Â It's a wonderful development and I certainly wish him well.
Q.Â Mr.Chairman, I've read about Berckmans Road being changed by next year.Â I'm just wondering if you can share with us the plans of that whole area that is out there and how that's going to change over the short period of time?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Well, the short period of time is that the new road will be constructed and it will significantly improve traffic year round here, importantly, and we think as well during the tournament.
The long‑range plan, of course, since our boundary will then be extended, we will upgrade from a beautification point of view, the parking lot.Â And while it will continually be maintained every year as a parking lot, it will look appropriately as though it belongs inside the fences of Augusta National.Â So a significant beautification project.
Q.Â Knowing your reverence for history and tradition, this is the 40th anniversary of Lee Elder's participation.Â I'm wondering if anything has been planned or in the future or has been done to honor that fairly momentous occasion?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Well, we certainly are delighted that the city is honoring Lee.Â It's a wonderful opportunity for he and his friends.Â As you perhaps know and as Lee knows and has been quoted as saying, we only honor anniversaries as they relate to winners of the tournament.
As it relates to Lee specifically on this occasion, we were delighted, delighted, to make significant credentials available to he and his family so they could enjoy and celebrate this week.
Q.Â Mr.Chairman, I'm curious about future ticketing.Â With some tickets available online, limited amount; with as I think you said last year, the waiting list no longer existing, and with Patrons only allowed to pass them down to one generation, are you envisioning a year, maybe after all of us in this room are gone, are you envisioning this as a ticketed event and the Patron experience goes away and that a case could be made that you're growing the game in that respect?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â That's a good question, and I don't think I have the answer.Â I would say that it's been a delight that when the tickets no longer become inheritable; meaning, somebody's died, we are able to offer those online in a random selection.Â And that has allowed several hundred people every year to be able to enjoy the Masters historically that had not been able to do so.
But the attrition of that list, hate to say it, but those people dying, having those tickets rights, goes on for decades still.Â So we don't know what we'll do at that time.
Q.Â In recent years, you've added other vendors to the tournament to improve the fan experience.Â I think some of the food products and the Georgia Peach ice cream sandwiches are a favorite of yours.Â How did the Club go about selecting vendors that get to do business with the Club and how can those vendors then, how much are they able to use their affiliation with the Club when it comes to their products; I think a product like that is only available here.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â The last part of the question is, they are not allowed to use their affiliation to the club in the promotion of any of their other business.Â Our architects's aren't, our designers aren't, our vendors aren't, nobody can.
As to how we select them, that's a little above my pay grade.Â I assume‑‑ well, first of all, the qualitative side would clearly be the most important.Â And then I suspect in some cases, bids are submitted, and that's all I know about it.
Q.Â We've been reporting on the story of Carl Jackson, Ben's caddie, and there seems to be some uncertainty as to how he can come back year after year with his family.Â Do you mark his place here with a lifetime membership or how does the club‑‑ or is the club doing something to mark that and allow him to come back?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â I don't think we have any lifetime memberships.Â So, no, we don't do that.Â We have been in discussions all week with Ben Crenshaw about the appropriate way for he and Carl to celebrate the end of Ben's career and we have let that decision‑making as to how precisely to do it up to the two of them, and I suspect we will see a very nice ending to Ben's round.Â And I don't want to give away anymore secrets.
Q.Â And how can Carl come back?Â It's obviously difficult to just come in as a member of the public.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Well, he'd come back‑‑ we don't have lifetime admission for employees after they leave the employ of the club.
Q.Â My question is to request a little bit more specific information about the property beyond Berckmans Road, maybe paint a picture of what it will look like going forward, pedestrian bridges, etc.; and to ask you if that project is part of Augusta National's effort to oversee the entire Patron experience, from the time someone gets out of their car, they won't have to interact with the outside world.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â I'm not sure our planning is that far developed, so I'll describe it generally.
Imagine parking now, in a few years from now, in a very beautiful park, walking to the admissions gate without having any interference by cars or carts.Â It will be a straight, uninterrupted walk, a beautiful walk.Â We're pretty good at landscaping, as you know, so you can kind of imagine what it would look like (laughter).
So we're right in the fun part of planning that.Â But it's going to be good.Â That I promise.
Q.Â The Drive, Chip & Putt Championship has been sensational.Â Do you envision it being an international finals in the future where you have children from, say, Australasia, Europe, Africa, also being part of that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â You know, I don't know the answer to that.Â I think there are, in fact, independent efforts in some of those places to establish some kind of equivalent competition.Â We have not had specific talks about it.Â I don't know that we will in the future.Â But we will always look for positive ways to try to grow the game and/or assist others in doing so.
Q.Â Given your interest in the grow the game initiatives, all of the ones that you've helped initiate here the last few years, have you entertained or would you entertain the idea of having some sort of women's event along those lines, and specifically, maybe even here?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â I don't think so.Â I believe I had that question last year, Bob, or the year before.Â We have a very short member season at Augusta National.Â It's seven months only.Â The time that we dedicate to the preparation and conduct of the tournament is already extensive.Â I don't think that we would ever host another tournament.
Q.Â I don't know if this is a closely‑held secret or not, but could you identify your jamboree partner (laughter).
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Yeah, I love him, so, yes, Rob Chapman.Â He didn't play that well in the jamboree (laughter).
Q.Â You mentioned earlier that the concentration of the improvements and changes this year were in sort of the restoration of damage that had been inflicted by the ice storm.Â Can you elaborate on what kind of things that you did there, and in conjunction with that, I understand your horticulturist will be retiring at the end of this year; if you can comment.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â I guess I would describe the overall efforts, Scott, as one of replanting.Â We did nothing to strategically affect the play of the course, creating hazards where none existed previously.Â Mostly replanting, and as you know, that's a long‑term process because we are limited as to the size of tree that can be replanted.
Having said that, and we are only about halfway through it, by the way.Â Having said that, I don't know about y'all, but I have been truly amazed that it looks so good, as compared to a year ago.Â So it's working and we'll be doing more of that.
And I'm not sure about our horticulturist.Â I don't know the answer to that.
Q.Â You talked about growing the game.Â Would expanding the TV coverage in the first and second round, would that play into the strategy?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â No, I wouldn't think that that would be a direct connection.Â We've been talking about that, earliest thing I read about that was 55 years ago (laughter).
And we've taken small, baby steps.Â I think, and as I've said during my remarks, the development of our digital platforms is going to create many more options where we may be able to capture some of those things that could be going on earlier in the day.Â But we're just trying to figure all that out.
Q.Â You mentioned the 17th hole, the scoring average last year.Â Did that impact the thinking on leaving the hole as it is, as we see it this week?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â It did, for this‑‑ it perhaps kept us from doing something so quickly.Â Now we are in our standard, long‑term observation point of view, and we'll determine now through the years what, if anything, needs to be done there.
Q.Â A bit of a long‑winded question, but in regard to growing the game, has Augusta National looked at the plight or considered the plight of mini‑tours in the United States?Â I think a lot of touring pros when they first get out of school are having a lot of limited places to play.Â The PGA TOUR has expanded the Web.com Tour circuit to Canada, China and central and South America.Â However, mini‑tours in the United States are kind of going away.Â So it's leaving domestic players with very few options in their attempts to get on to the PGA TOUR.Â So has Augusta National looked at that at all, any remedy?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â No, sir, we have not.Â Our point of view is a bit different.
The prioritization of our interest is to get kids to embrace a lifetime passion for the game, not necessarily to develop a career in the game.
So we are trying to make it fun and exciting and lifetime participation, and we are not really equipped, nor would we, I think, express an opinion about specific tours or what they ought to be doing.
Q.Â One more Berckmans Road follow‑up.Â For people who don't realize how close the golf course comes to the road, does having that land allow you to think about expanding or doing anything to the golf course itself?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Yes, through time it will, yes.
Q.Â The last three years, the winning score has been between 8‑ and 10‑under par.Â Is there a ballpark figure that you like the winning score to be, and if, so how do you go about achieving that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Between 8‑ and 10‑under par (laughter).
No, we don't prepare the course for a specific result; only for a specific test of their capability.Â And the factor, as you know already, that would cause extreme variations would be weather‑related conditions in most cases.
Q.Â The size of the field always seems to be a discussion point amongst ourselves and when we get here, clearly we're under a hundred again, which is I think the number you're looking for.Â Is that number set in stone?Â Is that something that if you exceeded you would be concerned and make some changes to it?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE:Â Well, that's a good question.Â We look at that periodically, and we are prepared if necessary to make changes to the qualifications.
However, more than the merits of the Top X versus the Top Y, the restricting factor to the field size is the amount of daylight hours during early spring.Â We already push the envelope very closely when we get at or about a hundred players.
If it regularly got more than that, we would have to do something.Â I don't know what it is, but we would do something.
CRAIG HEATLEY:Â Thank you, everybody.Â Have a fantastic week this week.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports