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April 6, 2016
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, and as always, I want to thank all of you for being here again this week.
I'm pleased to be joined today by many of our Committee Chairmen at the back of the room, all of whom are responsible for the success of our tournament, including especially Mr.Fred Ridley, the Chairman of Our Competition Committees and our long‑term Media Chairman, Mr.Craig Heatley.
All of our members are very much aware of the responsibility that we have inherited to organize and then execute a golf tournament which we hope and believe is one of the premiere annual sporting events in the world.
Our founders, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, set incredibly high standards as they continuously, obsessively mandated that our tournament be better every year. And believe me, I've learned over the past ten years that that's a very difficult thing to do.
But we do try hard to meet the already very high expectations of the players, our Patrons, our millions of fans around the world, and you, the press. And hopefully this year, will be another very successful year.
And while we are always looking ahead in our golf course analysis, and annually do make some changes, we have made no material changes to our golf course since last year's tournament.
And thanks to an ideal early spring growing season, our golf course condition is very good. And I congratulate Buzzy Johnson, the Senior Director of the Masters Tournament, for leading a successful team effort to prepare our course as an appropriate challenge to the world's best players. And we are confident that with continuing good weather, this year's competition will produce the drama and the excitement that our fans have come to expect from the Masters.
For so many years, and for so many people, the heroics of our players literally defined the Masters. Who can possibly forget that remarkable Sunday 30 years ago when Jack Nicklaus, then at age 46, made the amazing improbable charge on the second nine to win his sixth Masters title; and 55 years ago, Gary Player becoming our first international champion; 40 years ago, in 1976, Raymond Floyd crushed the field ultimately winning by a record‑setting eight strokes.
As we celebrate great moments in our history, so too do we celebrate great careers. Last night at the Champions Dinner we toasted the many accomplishments of Tom Watson, who as you know has announced that this year will be his final year of competing in the Masters Tournament. But we all know how amazingly competitive and seemingly ageless Tom is, so we just might have to save our good‑byes until Sunday.
But before the competition begins, we are eager and excited to welcome once again golf's big three to our first tee tomorrow morning. Thankfully we have Arnold Palmer joining us. He's a hero. He's my hero, who needs no club in his hands to receive the recognition and the love that he so richly deserves. His mere presence is worthy of our celebration, and so we look forward, once again, to this wonderful ceremony to begin our tournament.
This year we have assembled an outstanding field of 89 competitors from 23 countries, including 14 first‑time professional invitees, and impressively six amateurs. As we all know, Bobby Jones was the greatest amateur player of all time, and so it remains a proud tradition at the Masters that we continue to showcase amateur golf.
Our defending champion, Jordan Spieth, joins 15 other former major champions and leads a remarkably talented group of young players who truly signal the bright future of championship golf.
The professional game, I believe, is in very good shape, and its continuing health and prosperity depends upon the collaborative effort of many organizations and institutions who provide opportunity and encouragement to young players.
We at Augusta National Golf Club are trying to do our part, as we feel a continuing and genuine obligation to give back to the game. This mandate from our founders is every bit as important as the conduct of the tournament itself.
This past Sunday, we witnessed the third finals of the national Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, and I cannot overstate the importance of the role of our partners, the USGA and the PGA of America. They worked tirelessly to register participants and then to organize more than 250 local qualifiers that produce the 40 boys and 40 girls who woke up last Sunday and found themselves driving down Magnolia Lane.
To them and to the tens of thousands of kids who attempted to qualify, Augusta National Golf Club became more than a dream; for all of them, it became a possibility, and for some, a reality. It is honestly impossible for me to describe the joy and the happiness which completely overwhelmed Augusta National Golf Club this last Sunday at those Drive, Chip & Putt finals. I know I express the sentiments of the USGA and The PGA of America, that nothing makes us prouder to share our game and our good fortune with these wonderful kids.
And registration for next year's qualifying is now open, and I encourage all parents and kids to go to drivechipandputt.com to register for this summer's qualifiers.
Since last April, we have conducted the seventh Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong. Each has been a great success and each has elevated our respect and admiration for our partner, the R&A. We at the Masters show up with good intentions; the R&A shows up with 250 years of growing the game of golf. We are so grateful for their example and their inspiration. And we additionally salute and greatly acknowledge our other partner in that endeavor, the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.
This year, Cheng Jin from Beijing will be our second Chinese teenager who will compete here at the Masters and undoubtedly return home a hero. And in January, the second Latin America Amateur Championship propelled 16‑year‑old Costa Rican Paul Chaplet to the world stage. Principally, through the outstanding organizational efforts of the USGA and once again, the R&A, the Latin America Amateur Championship has quickly become the preeminent amateur event in all of Latin America.
And earlier this week, we are so proud to announce that the Olympic Gold Medalist would receive an invitation to the following year's Masters. No doubt, all of these events are serving our important mission to inspire kids to become involved in golf.
And none of these initiatives, nor the Masters Tournament itself, would be possible without the incredible assistance and support of our sponsors and broadcast partners. They provide the resources which allow us to focus on quality and innovation.
This year, for example, we will be broadcasting Amen Corner in 4K, the first‑ever live broadcast in the United States utilizing this promising new technology, and we will test a live virtual reality experience, which just may change the way that our fans choose to enjoy our tournament in the future.
And I say every year that we continue to explore ways to improve all of our digital offerings. Last year, I was a bit more specific, saying that we were very close to debuting some additional content. Accordingly, for the first time ever, we have expanded our coverage of two select groupings on our featured group digital feed that will be available on Masters.com and all of our apps beginning each morning at approximately 9:30.
This new offering is a test and is clearly indicated to further showcase our beautiful golf course, and at the same time, to measure the demand for our expanding digital platforms. As we have said consistently, we want to deliver our tournament to our fans in the manner in which they wish to receive it.
So whether working to grow the game, or making the tournament better for our many constituents, we at Augusta National Golf Club remain committed, when called upon by our partners, to help, or to create when we happen to have a promising idea.
Before I close, I would like to thank the City of Augusta and all parties involved in the realignment of Berckmans Road. It addresses several needed traffic and circulation improvements on a year round basis in our community, and it also begins the long‑term transformation of the manner in which we utilize our property to conduct the Masters Tournament.
Future improvements to this western side of our property will positively impact the parking experience of our Patrons and create additional options for the enjoyment of our entire campus. Thanks again for coming.
Craig, ready for a few questions.
Q. Mr. Payne, what are your plans for the 13th hole?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That was right off the bat, wasn't it (laughter).
Q. Nice to see you again.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you, Doug. Good to see you.
As we do every year, and historically forever, we are always looking at options for numerous of our holes. We create plans looking into the future, when we believe that the shot value of certain second shots, principally, has been impacted by how far the ball is now traveling.
As a consequence, 13 is one of those holes we are studying. We have made no decision whatsoever. Plans are underway to be considered, and as I said, that is one of many holes that we now have under consideration.
Q. With Tom Watson having stepped into Arnold Palmer's shoes in the Par 3 competition today, can we draw any conclusions into the changing of the guard of the Honorary Starters?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, you could, but I suspect that's premature. We are looking forward to having Arnold not tomorrow, but for many, many years to come. We will deal with that when the time comes.
Q. As you know, the Rio Olympic Games are less than four months away, and there's a laundry list of troubles in Rio right now: The Zika virus, water pollution, obviously political upheaval and controversy, and there's a question if they will be ready in time. You're aware of some of those issues, I'm sure. From your unique perspective, as someone who has run a summer Olympic Games and also, of course, one of the leaders of golf, how concerned are you about the Rio Olympics?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good question, Christine. In my experience with the Olympics, which date back‑‑ really my personal involvement was the Seoul Olympic Games, it seems that every Olympic Games, including our Games in Atlanta, there are a multitude of concerns as you approach the Games about the state of preparedness, whether they can possibly be issues.
All of the issues surface almost every time, but somehow countries, when their national pride is at stake, have a way of rising to the occasion, and I suspect that that's what we will see in Brazil this summer.
Q. You mentioned the distance the ball travels, and Mr.Nicklaus reiterated his views yesterday on that as a solution. You discussed the shot values of the golf course. Is that something you have ruled out, modifying equipment rules for the Masters, to address maintaining those shot values?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, as we've stated many times going back many years, we retain all options. At the same time, it's not something we would want to do.
And as it relates specifically to 13, which seems to be the subject du jour, we think there are multiple options where we could increase the difficulty of the hole and restore the shot values, only one of which deals with extending the length.
So we are in the middle of all of those studies, a lot of arithmetic, lot of design issues, and we would only resort to equipment as the last resort because we believe that the governing bodies in golf deal with that very effectively.
Q. Golf is growing significantly all around the world, and the introduction of the game at the Olympics is obviously going to strengthen that growth. Would the Masters in the future look at expanding the field, perhaps giving more opportunity to other players to come and participate in this great event?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, you know, I think unlike certainly any other major but most other golf tournaments, what limits the number of participants here is the number of daylight hours. This early in the spring, we just simply don't have the capability, even if we wanted to, to go far beyond where we are now.
I think we do a good job of attracting international players to the Masters. We are very proud of that. But an overall change that would guarantee a larger field every year, I don't think is something that we could possibly pursue.
Q. You mentioned the term long‑term utilization of the west side. You also talked about obsessively trying to make the tournament better. Can you talk about how far out you have a plan, and what maybe that plan is conceptually for this over the next whatever period of time it is?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'll speak of it very generally, of course, Alex (laughter).
Corporately, we plan 20 years down the road. We have plans for every couple years iteration going all the way out to 20 years. That, of course, is subject to dramatic change depending on who the chairman is at the time. So whether or not my 20‑year plan would be embraced by the person that follows me is, you know, subject to debate perhaps. But we plan very far into the future.
For instance, the Berckmans Road transformation that we have just seen occur was approximately 20 years in the working, and I think it actually appears in some correspondence that we have that I've read 20 years ago. We look way out. We're always trying to make our tournament better, and I think we'll continue to do that into the future.
Q. The 5th and 4th holes have always been landlocked by Old Berckmans Road. Now that you have control of that area, what sort of plans do you have maybe in the immediate future for doing some renovations or expansion of those holes?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, we don't talk about the immediate future as it relates to our plans, as you know, Scott. Certainly that creates options which heretofore did not exist, and, bingo, those are a couple of the holes that we now have under consideration.
Q. Mr.Payne, I want to ask you a question about Junior Golf. My 14‑year‑old and his friends are active on the circuit and it's made me realize that these youngsters can play at a really high level. Your neighbor, the Augusta Country Club, does a great job of fostering this love of the game. What are your thoughts on extending an invitation to the Masters one day to a junior champion?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I haven't thought about it before. Our Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship and our Latin America Amateur Championship are doing a pretty good job of feeding teenagers to us, so I guess we're already in thata bit (laughter).
As I said earlier, I don't think we are close to creating another qualification criteria because of the limitations of the daylight hours.
Q. Another question about golf at the Olympics. Was there any real concern on the part of Augusta National about making the Masters open to the gold medalist, and what do you think will be the impact worldwide of this addition of golf to the Olympic program?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: The first part, there was no reservation whatsoever, and we were proud to do it, jointly and collectively as we did with our partners the other day. We're very proud of it and we think it is appropriate.
Having had some experience with the Olympics, it is the world's largest platform to showcase sports, the largest and the best. When you start giving out awards which have the effect of creating immense national pride, I think we will see almost immediately with golf's inclusion in the Olympics, multiple countries starting using resources and capital into the development of their own golf programs, because these countries want to win medals. So I think it will be a very, very positive long‑term effect.
Q. One more construction question, if you don't mind. Could you discuss anything about what might happen to this property, so close to the first fairway as far as this time next year with the press building?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: That's two questions (laughter). As you all know, on your arrival next year, you'll have the best media facility in the world and we are very proud of it.
I can promise you, because I have tested it, I beat on everybody: You will be less than one minute away from the course on a totally private, totally restricted, dedicated and all the other good words y'all want me to say, shuttle from the new media center to the course. It's going to be magnificent.
This particular building, in time, this is a multi‑year project, the overall renovation of the corridor, this building in time will not exist. We discovered a couple of years ago, really, that for safety and other reasons, we need to widen the corridor. We had an evacuation a few years ago, you will remember, and we had some issues about the safety of our Patrons in the corridor.
So this building will cease to exist because the corridor will be widened to allow for the safe traverse of our fans to and from the course.
Q. Augusta National Golf Club has been showing a keen interest in the Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship since 2009, the outset of the tournament, and especially it has been an honor and prestigious for the champions of the tournament to be invited to play here at Augusta National Golf Club. My question is, what makes Augusta National Golf Club keep an eye on the great interest in the Asia Pacific region's golf?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Really good question. When you look at the potential for golf to develop, the greatest opportunity for kids to become involved in the game and the game itself to grow as a consequence, there's no better region in the world than throughout Asia.
And since we already had many good friends in Asia who were willing to help us; we had the R&A as a role model, we decided the way to begin those efforts where we could use our resources and our reputations, specifically even our tournament as a drawing card, that that would be a good place for us to begin, and we think we made the right decision.
Q. You talked a bit about the new technology, the virtual reality, the 4K. How important is it for the Masters and the golf to keep track of new technology and keep up with it?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think it's important. They are all realtime tests. Different technology are emerging so quickly, we are fortunate to have the resources and the partners which allow us to be one of the first ones to see if it's any good, and if it's not, then we can afford for the investment not to have paid off.
You'll recall seven or eight years ago, we thought that next emerging technology was 3D. It did not develop as quickly as we thought, and we either quit doing it or we reduced it rather dramatically. And so we are always willing to experiment, because we don't claim to be smarter than the people who want to watch and enjoy our tournament. So however they want to do it, we're going to be there.
Q. Can you talk about the challenge perhaps of maintaining the tradition of the Masters while making improvements in keeping up with the technology, achieving that balance?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I think more than talk about it, would be to demonstrate it, and I think the tradition of the Masters, which is centered around the quality of the competition, the beauty of the course, increasingly, importantly, the friendliness of our staff and the people; the thousands of letters that I receive after every Masters, 95 percent of them talk about personal encounters our visitors have had with members of our staff.
And it's so gratifying to know that they feel so welcomed, and I think it surprises them. In many cases, they thought they were coming to see golf, but the experience proved to be a lot more personal and a lot more impressive to them. That's what makes me the proudest.
So that is what I believe our tradition is. We build these buildings, we stay on top of all technologies, because we are going to be the best. Nobody is going to be better than us in that respect.
So if we can keep that pace and at the same time maintain the friendliness and the welcoming culture that we are known for, then that's what's important to preserve, and I think we do it pretty well.
Q. I know you remain impartial and play no favorites, but how much personal satisfaction and pride would you take the day that one of the former amateur players wins this event?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Oh, it would be good. It would be a real celebration. And while, you're right, we obviously don't play favorites, we have all talked about it, how long is it going to take.
And then we had Hideki Matsuyama emerge so quickly as a great player, and we're going to have others. So it's going to be a very special day, very special day.
Q. I understand that, like Tiger and Fred, you are dealing with some back issues that are keeping you off the course.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Yes, ma'am.
Q. What is it like to pour all your energies into this event and not be able to enjoy the game itself? What's your prognosis?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, thank you for asking. I had another very major surgery back in November, and I haven't even started rehab yet, but I'm soon to do it. And it's been very frustrating, although I am feeling better, Karen, so I feel some light at the end of the tunnel.
But it is frustrating not to play golf, and I'm shooting for the middle of June. Unfortunately we're closed then (laughter). We may, however, open it up for one day (laughter). But I'm really looking forward to it.
It's been difficult, but, you know, there's so much to do here that I've been coming about the same frequency as I have forever. And it's pretty tough just looking out your office and seeing the golf course and you can't get on it, but I'm soon to be back.
Q. Who do you think will be back first, you or Tiger?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, last night, he looked good. He looked better than me. I was delighted. You know, he's encouraged. I could tell the fire is building back up in his belly, and I suspect Tiger's going to be back fairly quickly, and I'm looking forward to it.
Q. This is your 10th Masters, I guess, now as chairman. Have you been able to accomplish everything that you had wanted to starting out, and has it changed in your mind, your role, from what you thought it was then to now? And then the follow would be, do you have any thoughts on how long you want to keep doing it?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, that committee hasn't met yet (laughter).
The job, I didn't have a lot of coaching in advance. The responsibilities emerged from the potential of Augusta National, which is enormous, and it's positive, and we have discovered through some of these international efforts that people want to be associated with Augusta National, and we want to help them. So it's a mutual love affair.
And as to specific goals, I didn't have any specific goals. My goal is to serve whatever tenure that I serve and then fade into the background, because, as I've said multiple times, Augusta National has only two people who forever will be a part of their culture, and that's Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones.
Q. With this being quite a busy summer with the Olympics, and it will be the same in 2020, you've been the first major of the year since 1971, how would you feel if the PGA Championship decided in those Olympic years to try and stage its championship in February?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Hmmm. Haven't thought about that.
Do we have an opinion on that?
FRED RIDLEY: It's happened before.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It's happened before? It won't affect our ticket sales, I can promise you (laughter).
So I really don't know, Doug. You'll have to get back to me on that one next year.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Thank you, everybody, very much indeed.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports