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April 5, 2017
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Billy Payne, and I'm honored to serve as Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
I am joined once again today by Mr.Fred Ridley, the Chairman of Our Competition Committee, and, of course, Mr.Craig Heatley, the long‑term Chairman of our Media Committee.
On behalf of our entire membership, including specifically many of our Tournament Committee Chairs who are in the back of the room this morning, I'm delighted to welcome all of you back to Augusta National for the playing of the 2017 Masters.
I have no doubt that history will place its own special mark on the 81st playing of the Masters, as it is competed over the next four days. But for all of us at Augusta National Golf Club, that history has already been written. It is the celebration of the life story of Arnold Palmer.
For the first time in over 60 years, our sport is without its preeminent hero; a man whose greatness as player and a champion was exceeded only by his qualities as a man. Arnold Palmer let us all into his life; not from the distance that is typically maintained between a superstar and a fan, but into his life, close‑up, so that we could literally push him to greatness and regale in his accomplishments as though they were our own.
During his extraordinary life, Arnold Palmer and Augusta National connected in so many wonderful ways. His four victories, the Arnold Palmer Tribute Monument on the 16th tee, his annual participation in our Honorary Starter ceremony, even his membership into our Club, all of them, outward displays of our love and affection for this very special man.
And as this week continues, we should and will do more to honor his immeasurable contributions to our Club and this tournament, and to this great sport.
First, we worked closely, for weeks, with our broadcast partners at home and abroad, those who annually present the Masters to hundreds of millions of our fans around the globe, we have provided them with exclusive access to our proprietary archive of historical footage featuring Arnold, and we have encouraged them to showcase his accomplishments during the broadcast.
All week long, our digital platforms and printed publications will highlight his lasting memory expansively and will complement your own coverage of his remarkable legacy.
On behalf of our members and our Patrons, we are honored to make a significant contribution to the Arnold Palmer Charitable Foundation, and tomorrow morning, for the Honorary Starter's Ceremony, we will once again proudly summon Arnie's Army and provide every one of our Patrons on the ground a special commemorative badge that I am wearing today.
So I think tomorrow will no doubt be an emotional good‑bye, but at the same time, an even more powerful thank you to the man we dearly love.
Well, a year ago, the very place, the exact place you are now sitting was directly on the centerline of old Berckmans Road, and is the result of seven years of planning and execution, and we hope another manifestation of our resolve to try to get better every year.
People always ask us why we continue to improve our campus and our facilities, which are already considered by some as without peer in the sporting world. Honestly, the answer is pretty simple. In the same manner that we all inherited this wonderful Club and tournament, so, too, did our beloved founders, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, condition that inheritance on our collective adoption of the principle of constant improvement. We simply know no other way.
And while we don't claim to always be right, or always be the best, we do claim to make the most sincere and significant effort possible to host one of the world's preeminent sporting events.
One of those 24/7 efforts since last year is obviously this new press building. As Craig and his team will tell you, we had a very simple goal: To build for you the finest working environment in all of sport, not just in golf; to create a facility that not only expedites and enhances the creation of your work product, but one that acknowledges your long‑term importance to the success of the Masters.
We are fully aware that over the decades, the magic of your words, the pictures literally painted by your compelling narratives are largely responsible for the universal reverence and appeal of the Masters. So on behalf of hundreds, sometimes thousands of skilled workers, who worked around the clock for the last ten months, welcome to your new home.
And believe it or not, with all of our spare time this summer, we undertook a few other projects to keep us busy: The continued development of our western border, which had been predicated upon the completion of Berckmans Road continued over the summer and allowed us to transform and improve the Patron arrival experience; relocated security gates, medical security, support buildings now better serve our Patrons, and, we believe, enhance the beauty of our campus. And we completed the important project of developing an improved entry experience leading to the first fairway. Basically we opened a new tournament headquarters, now a more fitting hub for tournament operations and the home of the Competition Committees that Fred leads so well.
In completing the tournament headquarter structure, we are able to begin widening the adjacent Patron thoroughfare and add a more spacious restroom facility. The final phase this summer will include a new main merchandise shop and a new expanded concession experience.
And as I know all of you are already aware, we made no substantive changes to the golf course this year. I am pleased to report that a mild winter, coupled with meticulous planning and execution, has resulted in a dense and lush overseed, and the course is looking and playing magnificently. Maybe, just maybe, the best turf conditions ever.
Regrettably, the same weather that propelled our course and greens to near‑perfect condition caused our normally spectacular azaleas and other flowers to bloom three weeks early that. That premature bloom, combined with recent consecutive hard freezes, has diminished our otherwise beautiful and traditional coloring.
So this year, we have decided that our color of choice is green (laughter), Augusta Green, and I hope you will agree that it is both abundant and beautiful. So I would like to commend our golf course grounds and nursery teams led by Buzzy Johnson, Brad Owen and Dez Kayea, who see to every detail of the course's preparation on a yearly basis, and importantly, this week during the Tournament.
We do believe that the world's best players will be tested appropriately, and provided the weather cooperates, we expect another compelling competition and hopefully the excitement our fans will come to expect.
In summary, we continue to chase perfection, and though constantly falling short, it will never be for lack of effort here at Augusta National.
Obviously the Masters Tournament remains our most visible vehicle to share the greatness of the sport around the world. But as you are all aware and in recent years, we have taken a more collaborative approach of working with our partners in an attempt to serve and to grow our game.
Thanks in large measure to the leadership of the R&A and the Asia‑Pacific Golf Confederation, we have witnessed a significant increase in the relevance of the Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship, and it has become the preeminent amateur competition in that region of the world.
Similarly, the USGA and the R&A have helped launch the Latin America Amateur Championship, which in a short amount of time is on a similar path of success as our Asia initiative. The objectives in both cases are the same: To create heros that will inspire the next generation of golfers in those regions.
And for the fourth time we have seen the successful conclusion to the Drive, Chip & Putt, now an established fixture, and fun and fitting beginning to Masters week.
While we at the Masters receive many accolades for hosting the national finals here in Augusta, I want to be perfectly clear: The true success of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship is a direct consequence of the work of our partners at the USGA and The PGA of America.
The USGA manages the registration process and receives inquiries from thousands and thousands of parents and participants alike.
The PGA of America and in particular the PGA Sections, all across our country, conduct hundreds of qualifiers each year and invest enormous amounts of time into this initiative. Those thousands of PGA professionals have embraced this program and accepted the challenge of putting it in place at their own facilities. Our efforts pale in comparison to the sacrifices they have made.
So in summary on this topic, I would like to be clear and unequivocal: Without the efforts of our partners, the USGA and The PGA of America, there would be no Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.
This year at the Masters, we have several important anniversaries to note. Beginning with Lord Byron's first victory 80 years ago, to Augusta's own Larry Mize winning his green jacket off a miracle chip‑in on 11 in 1987. And of course, Tiger Woods, who 20 years ago recorded his historic and first Masters win. Like his millions of fans around the world, we wish him well and look forward to seeing him returning for many more healthy and competitive Masters appearances.
Turning our attention to this week, our exceptional field consists of 94 invitees from 20 countries, 19 of which are here for the first time, and we also welcome five amateur competitors, who of course carry the torch of amateur participation established by the great Bobby Jones.
We also welcome back our defending champion, Danny Willett, who last night joined the Masters Club in an always fun and emotional Champions Dinner.
So needless to say, after many months of hard work, we are excited and enthusiastic to get the tournament underway and we hope you are, too.
And with that, Craig, I'm ready for a few questions.
Q. Mr.Payne, you mentioned the changes to Augusta National property. Amazed how Augusta has changed including this wonderful press center, but what changes are in the pipeline for the course itself?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you. None to announce now that have been put on a permanent schedule.
It's fair to say, as is always the case, we are always looking at certain holes, certain other improvements to the golf course, and we talked about some of those, and I think they are all pretty obvious.
We have a great opportunity now in that we now own the old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or re‑design‑‑ not re‑design, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.
Q. I just wondered if you have some personal reflections on Arnold and your relationship with him and interactions with him over the years and just give us a sense of that.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Yes, sir. Thank you for asking that. I first met Arnold Palmer when I was invited here before I was a member, and I played golf‑‑ also, before I played golf. But I played with Arnold, and with his dear friend, Russ Meyer, and with Jack Stevens at that time.
Of course, I was completely in awe and he was so nice and so accepting of my embarrassing play. It made me feel, notwithstanding that level of embarrassment.
Through the years, I was fortunate to get close to Arnie, as a consequence of his return both as a member and as a former champion. And I found him‑‑ and I will address it a little bit tomorrow at the Honorary Starter's ceremony, but I'm not sure I ever met a man who was more giving than Arnold Palmer. He had a profound influence on my life.
Q. Curious what was behind the decision to ask the honorary invitees to no longer participate on the Par 3 or play practice rounds.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you for asking. It was a multi‑year evaluation of the increasing popularity of the Par 3 Tournament. More of the tournament participants and former champions wanting to play, stretching out the required time to complete it to a point that it became exceedingly difficult to do it.
Because on that particular day, as you know, people come and they want to watch, and it's like, we call it a two‑for‑one day, in most cases. They get to watch the players practice in the morning typically, and then they get to enjoy the Par 3 in the afternoon. And we think that's a great combination; and thought extending the tee times and the length of the Par 3 any further was not the right way to go.
I am proud to say, however, that all of them still receive‑‑ they are still welcome invitees to Augusta, receiving tickets for them and their family and food and beverage and all the other things that it's a pleasure to give them to recognize their contributions to the game.
Q. The USGA Executive Director recently floated the possibility of an alternative golf ball because of the, quote, billions and billions, unquote, dollars spent to change golf courses and the inability of some courses to adapt. Is such an alternative ball something that you are exploring or would be open to incorporating here at the Masters?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: As you know, we have been asked that question for many, many years, going back first time, I believe, 15 years ago. And I think the greatest development since then is that the governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A, now have a more concentrated concerned effort about that issue, as they do with the other rules.
They are working together to ensure that it does not become a problem, and as is always the case, we have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution.
But of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. But I don't think that will ever happen.
Q. Without giving too much away, were there any stories last night that particularly touched you about Arnold or anything that surprised you? Jack said yesterday people always learn something new about Arnold.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Yes, ma'am, there were. But I am an invited guest to that event and I'm not a member of the Champion's Club, because I never won at the Masters (laughter).
So I think really you should ask one of them. I'm sorry.
Q. Mr.Chairman, you referenced Tiger's win 20 years ago, and that the time there was a lot of hope about golf and where it would go. It's 20 years later and golf seems to be, according to many different surveys, having its issues. I know you've worked towards dealing with that with Drive, Chip & Putt and some of the other initiatives you're doing, but as a businessman, looking at this, what suggestions do you have to try to turn the game around?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm not sure we have enough time to get into all the possibilities and all the initiatives that people have going around the world.
First of all, I think golf as a sport is in better shape than some people write about. The reason I say that is there are a lot of those are measuring the business of golf. Well, some people are not good businessmen and women. You know, they make mistakes. They don't build the courses properly; they overextend. So some of these closings have to do with the business of golf more so than the fact that people don't want to play golf.
I believe that the energy and enthusiasm from a youth level that's coming into golf is at its highest point ever. So what we have chosen to do and hope to do, and I've said many times, is that we are blessed with significant resources and significant gratitude for the position that we all find ourselves in and we are willing to commit those resources to help grow the game, and we can always do better, and we will do better.
Q. I assume your attentions will focus on the old media center and what's going to be done with that area next year. Is that sort of the last piece of the Patron's experience puzzle that you see in your project plans?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I'm afraid to say it's the last piece (laughter). The answer is, the current plans to which we are committed, yes, the completion of the new merchandise area, the new concession area, and then an administration building which will be kind of close behind it. That's the last we have on the drawing board.
Q. To Arnold for a second. With the marriage between Arnold and television in the '60s and '70s, did you at any point, would you at any point, consider naming this building for Arnold?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: We just finished this building two days ago (laughter) and, quite honestly, we just haven't thought about that yet. So I really don't have an answer for that. Sorry.
Q. A subject that's come up over the years, as you talk about some of the changes you've done here and a lot of golf tournaments have relaxed their rules on cell phones, which obviously you guys have not done and have remained as strict or stricter on that as you always were. Why do you have that policy as things are changing around other tournaments, and do you see any chance that y'all might change that in a year's time?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You'll have to ask the next chairman. That's not going to change while I'm chairman (laughter).
Q. Can you explain why you're so adamant on that?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Not really (laughter). I just don't think it's appropriate, and the noise is an irritation to not only players, the dialing, the conversation, it's a distraction and that's the way we've chosen to deal with it.
Q. Would you and the Masters consider prohibiting call‑ins or e‑mails from home when there's a rules violation, as there was with Tiger Woods in 2013?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I think Mr.Ridley is more qualified to answer a rules question.
FRED RIDLEY: Thank you, Mr.Chairman.
I take it the situation that gave rise to your question, or at least coming back to the forefront of your mind, was the situation this past weekend with Lexi Thompson. It was certainly very unfortunate. It broke our hearts, as it did golf fans watching all over the country. We commend the way that Lexi handled it.
We are encouraged that the governing bodies‑‑ as you know, we are not a governing body. We follow The Rules of Golf that are promulgated by the governing bodies, but we are encouraged to know that this issue is something that is being considered as part of the rules modernization effort that's going on right now, and we understand that there is a proposal that's being discussed that would limit the use of video evidence.
So we hope very much that something appropriate, an appropriate solution to this would be reached. We would be very supportive in that and we hope that that will happen sooner, rather than later.
Q. Mr.Chairman, I'd like to ask you about the return of golf to the Olympics. I'd like your thoughts, if you will, on what happened in Rio last summer and whether you think Atlanta should make another run at the Games so they should play here.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Here? Like Augusta, here?
Q. Yes, sir. (Laughter).
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I have a lot of leeway on this answer since I surely won't be chairman then (laughter).
I watched virtually every minute of the Olympic golf on television. I thought it was fantastic.
I thought the players had a great time. I talked to both Rickie and Kuch, and it exceeded their expectations. I talked to both of them before they went and I said: Now listen, this is going to be totally different. You have represented your country in certain other initiatives but this is different, believe me, so you need to experience this; it's a one‑of‑a‑kind experience. And I was so delighted that they chose to go. And I think they did a good job. Far exceeded the expectations that most people had.
As to the Atlanta Olympics, having a shot at it, it would have to be somebody else, obviously but we are building sports facilities at a rapid rate. We certainly have not lost our capability of doing it, and so I remain enthusiastic about the Games coming back to the United States.
We have a candidate now I'm very excited about in Los Angeles, so we'll see what happens.
Q. How much does the forecast concern you with severe weather moving in just before the opening round, and could that delay the Par 3 today or even cancel it for the first time?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: It could do all of those things. Whether it will or not, we don't know yet.
We are in constant touch with the weather forecasters and at the end of the day, of course, the final decision we make will depend on the safety of the Patrons, and we just do not know yet.
Q. Have you any plans to invite any more women members? I think you have three at the moment. There are not many around there, as you see.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, of course, we would not give you the profile of our incoming members before they know about it. But I think that you will find through time that women have become a wonderful addition to our Club, and there will be more in the future, certainly.
Q. I have a fashion question for you. The last couple years, Nike has introduced shirts that sort of stretch the definition of what a collar is; they are very short and a few players will wear them this week. Does the Club have a definition of what constitutes a collar, and are these players complying with the dress code?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I assume that means we require collared shirts; is that right? Is that what you're telling me?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know that I've ever seen that shirt; whether or not in my personal opinion it would meet that definition, I just don't know.
Q. Phil Mickelson was in here yesterday questioning the integrity of some of his peers in regard to marking the ball. Wonder if you thought there was a problem in regards to honesty of players.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: No, sir, I'm not aware of any, and I think golf remains a sport of great integrity. I don't know what he was referring to, of course, but it's certainly not something that I've ever witnessed.
Q. I'm just curious, going back to the Olympics for a minute. Given the course down in Rio and whatever state its in right now, have you ever been approached about taking the Latin American Amateur there, and have you considered it?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't think we have ever been approached. I believe many years ago, three or four, we briefly considered it as perhaps a test event for that particular course. But the scheduling didn't work out. So other than that, I'm not aware of anything.
Q. You're certainly called upon to talk about a wide range of topics in culture, nationally, internationally. The biggest news since we were last year is the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Are you comfortable that someone so controversial is so associated with the game that you love and represent?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I am not‑‑ first of all, I am not fully aware of anything that our President may have said controversial about the game of golf.
We have had several Presidents, including one who was a member here, have been significant advocates and players of golf, and I think it's only natural that someone who loves the game would espouse and be proud of that association.
Q. But in 2010, you obviously talked about Tiger Woods, you talked about how egregious his behavior was, and you made it a point talking about him as a role model. With Donald Trump's behavior and some of the things he said during the election, are you comfortable with that? What's the difference?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't think you quoted me accurately, Christine, about what I said in the Tiger remarks. However, giving you the benefit of the doubt, I would go back ‑‑ I'm not the one to judge, whatever, how his other remarks may have some influence on the game of golf, which is where my interest level resides exclusively. Thank you.
Q. More a comment than a question, if I could, to Chairman Payne, to Mr.Ridley and Mr.Heatley. We've enjoyed getting to know the Media Committee, all the members here. Just on behalf of the Golf Writers Association of America and the international press here, the photographers here for the 81st Masters, we would like to say thank you for this great facility, for the Charlie Bartlett Lounge that honors one of our co‑founders, for the arena where we work. It's just tremendous and we want to say thank you. We're pretty unanimous that it's the best overall project that we have ever encountered.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you very much.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Thank you everyone for coming.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports