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April 4, 2018
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Fred Ridley, and I have the privilege of serving as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.
To begin, let me express an enthusiastic welcome to the 82nd Masters Tournament. To all of you here in this room and to the millions of golf fans around the world, I'm sure you're familiar with the gentlemen to my left, Mr.Craig Heatley. Craig chairs our Media Committee and does a wonderful job advocating for all of you who tell the story of the Masters Tournament, not only this week but throughout the year. Craig, I thank you for your service to the club and the Masters.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: To my right I'm joined my by longtime friend, Jim Hyler. Jim's experience and qualifications made him the clear choice as the chairman of the Competition Committees. With the support of the Masters Tournament committees, all of them, Jim now has the important responsibility of conducting the Masters competition to the high standards that have been established over our history and to improve it every year. Jim, I know you go a great job.
JIM HYLER: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: As just the seventh person to serve as Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, I begin the most significant chapter in my lifelong connection to the game of golf. I accept the responsibility with humility, with a determination to pursue the principles established by our founders and I believe fully prepared to lead this organization as we explore new and impactful ways to impact the game of golf.
I say that for two reasons. First, I have a burning passion for this game and a great affection for this club and tournament, an affection that was born when I first rode down Magnolia Lane 42 years ago to compete as an amateur in the 40th Masters Tournament. So my relationship with Augusta National and the Masters as a competitor and honorary invitee, as a member and head of the Competition's Committee, and now as chairman, has spanned for over half of our tournament's history.
Second, and so importantly, for the past 11 years I have had the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with one of the most extraordinary people I've ever known. I'm of course referring to my predecessor and my dear friend, Billy Payne. Billy has been a unique and dynamic leader throughout his life. He believed that our accomplishments are limited only by our imaginations. He also understood the power of relationships and understood that people and organizations working together could do far more than they could alone. Billy not only honored our founders but he also applied their ideals in new and progressive ways, both inside our gates and around the world. His efforts advanced this club, the Masters Tournament, and no doubt the greater game of golf. Because of that, and so much more, I would like to take this moment to recognize and sincerely thank Billy Payne for his chairmanship, his leadership, and, most importantly, his friendship.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Sadly, this past year, we lost a dear friend who also occupied this seat, Mr.Hootie Johnson. Hootie loved Augusta National and the Masters as much as any person I ever met, and he proudly accepted the enormous responsibility that comes with being chairman. Hootie's legacy of exceptional service to Augusta National and the Masters Tournament will be celebrated forever by our membership.
The transition of leadership that began this past summer progressed quickly while we completed several important projects. We opened our new administration building which houses many of our year‑round staff, and we also recently completed a new main golf shop and concessions facility adjacent to the expanded patron corridor. Early observations this week show we were successful in providing our guests the experience and environment they have come to deserve and certainly deserve.
In addition to these physical improvements, we also launched an enhanced experience for millions of fans who consume Masters content on our web site and apps. It's now easier to follow favorite players and keep up with the highlights of the tournament. And we did this while maintaining the simplicity and beauty of these online destinations.
This project, together with increased activity on social media channels, reaffirms our commitment to deliver content to our viewers in the manner in which they wish to deserve it. I hope you'll all agree that our golf course and, in fact, the entire campus looks magnificent. Normal weather produced ideal growing conditions, and our golf course and nursery teams have once again done a magnificent job in their preparations. Mother Nature also has cooperated and has given us spectacular color throughout the grounds.
Our golf course has evolved throughout Augusta National's history. Bobby Jones was intent on keeping the course in step with the ongoing developments of the game. So considerate, incremental improvements have taken place over the years because we remain committed to protecting the shot values Mr.Jones and Alister MacKenzie devised. To that end, we continue to closely monitor how distances produced by today's players affect our golf course. Thankfully, we do have options, and further change may come after proper deliberation. But we do not think that additional length should be the immediate or only reaction to what we continue to observe in the Masters. We have been consistent in expressing our confidence in the governing bodies, and we will continue to support their efforts. Although differing views may well, in fact, exist on the subject among golf's major stakeholders, we hope and strongly encourage all who are a part of our sport to work together in the best interest of the game as this important issue evolves.
Looking ahead, our focus remains on the growth of the game. Recent efforts of the Masters Tournament Foundation, working with our partners at the R&A, the USGA, and the PGA of America, illustrate our enthusiasm. In October, we will help conduct the 10th Asia‑Pacific Amateur Championship, which will be held Singapore. In January, we return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic where the fifth Latin America Amateur will be conducted. The Sunday Drive, Chip & Putt finals was the fifth edition of this fun and meaningful program aimed at boys and girls in all 50 states.
All of these initiatives promote the same fundamental mission, creating role models who will inspire young girls and boys to take up the game. In doing so, we hope youthful enthusiasm will develop into a lifelong passion.
So today I am proud and extremely excited to announce a new extension of this mission directed at a segment of our sport that is so important, one that is vital to the future of golf. Beginning next year, we will invite 72 of the game's best women amateur golfers from around the world to compete in the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship. This championship will be held the week prior to the Masters, and the final round will take place on Saturday, April 6, 2019, here at Augusta National Golf Club.
We are grateful to be working with an outstanding venue in Augusta, Champions Retreat, who will host the first 36 holes of this competition. We certainly appreciate their assistance, and I'm pleased to recognize owner Bill Forrest who is with us today.
Bill, please raise your hand so we can thank you for your contribution to this important new women's event.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: This championship will be conducted under the same standards of operations as the competitors, patrons, and media enjoy during the Masters Tournament. We intend to share this experience globally through television and digital platforms. At the same time, we will invite patrons onto Augusta National's grounds to witness and enjoy the immense talent of this next generation of golfing greats in the women's game.
In a continued spirit of partnership, we have shared plans with many of our friends in golf. Everyone recognizes this opportunity adds greatly to the women's game, and certainly will benefit from their collaboration as the details of this event are further developed.
This championship will become an exciting edition to the Masters week, and it furthers our effort to promote the sport and inspire young women to take up the game. And, now, just imagine the 40 girls who come here each year for the Drive, Chip & Putt national finals will be able to dream about returning here one day to compete on a much grander stage for another impressive title, champion of the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
More details will be available shortly, and we ask for your support in spreading the news of this announcement far and wide. We believe this event will have a long‑lasting impact on the game.
Before I close, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize a very important member of the press who is with us again this year. This evening our Masters Major Achievement Award will be presented to Mr.David Westin of the Augusta Chronicle. 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.
David, we thank you and offer our heartfelt congratulations.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: With that, I would like to thank all of you again for being here. Let's have a great week. Craig? I'm ready to take some questions.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Thank you, Mr.Chairman.
Q. Two questions on the Women's Amateur. First of all, will the winner get a Green Jacket? And if not, what will she get?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: The Green Jacket certainly is an iconic part of the Masters Tournament and is awarded to the champion. We plan to have a very distinctive award in trophy for the winner of this event, and we think in time that that will become iconic as well as it relates to this championship, and we think that it will be very well received and the winner is going to be very excited to receive it.
Q. Do you know what it is?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: We don't know yet. We got to work on that. But I can assure you it will be very, very nice.
Q. Secondly, you raise a good point about boys who are here for the Drive, Chip & Putt can aspire to be here as an amateur and pro, and now girls will have that chance. Why lean towards a women's amateur? Did you give any consideration to a professional event? Or was there a reason for the amateur side of it?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think it‑‑ a couple points. I think focusing on amateur golf is consistent with our history, with our founder, our co‑founder, Bobby Jones. We also feel that that is the way that we can make the greatest impact in growing the game, and in this particular instance the women's game. So we thought that was the better way to go and the better use of our resources.
But having said that, I think over time that this will also be of great benefit to the women's professional game as well.
Q. Two questions. One, yesterday or last night you attended an event that many of us would like to attend but don't have the opportunity. Could you talk about what it was like to be at the Champion's Dinner?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, first off, I would say that I'm a guest there. So I'm there at the pleasure of the champions. It was a very memorable evening, and it was quite an honor to be with those gentlemen in such a special setting.
Q. And then, secondly, is it limiting now that you have a women's amateur and the Masters, are you limited then to not be able to expand beyond that if you wanted to have some other type of event here at some point during the year?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, the Augusta National Women's Amateur is actually an extension of our Masters week. We now start the week, so to speak, with the Drive, Chip & Putt, and this will be an extension of that. It will be held on Saturday, the day before the Drive, Chip & Putt.
We looked at the impact trying to balance the need for players who are playing at the Masters Tournament to come in and practice. We also are mindful of the fact that we have a very short season for our members and guests. And all that was taken into consideration when we decided to play this event when we did.
Q. What's your assessment right now of the pace of play for Masters tournaments? Are you satisfied with the‑‑ how the threesomes are getting around, and then twosomes on the weekends, any room for improvement, or are you pretty happy with it right now?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, there's certainly always room for improvement. I feel that golf is best enjoyed when it's played at a reasonable pace. Having said that, we have to recognize that playing tournament golf under the conditions that we ask the players to play under, very difficult conditions, is hard, and the pressure that's involved certainly weighs on the time that it takes to play the round.
We have a pace of play policy that we are comfortable with. We certainly enforce it, but Augusta National can be a very difficult golf course under certain circumstances. I would point out that primarily weather circumstances. I would point out that the last two days are twosomes, typically get around in right around four hours and four hours and five minutes, and we think that's a really good pace for that twosome play.
Q. Congratulations again on a successful Drive, Chip & Putt. My question is about junior golf. Would you give us your thoughts on what you would like to see done to continue to grow the game at that level, and might you ever consider hosting a junior Masters at Augusta National?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, the second part of the question, it's something we haven't considered. I would say that we are going to constantly look at ways that we can, working with others, help grow the junior game, grow the amateur game, but that's not something we specifically thought of. As it relates to the‑‑ or have considered.
As it relates to the Drive, Chip & Putt specifically, what happens on Sunday really is just the showpiece. What really is important about the Drive, Chip & Putt, for those that aren't fortunate enough to be here on Sunday, the 80 finalists, is what happens in the qualifiers. I mean, there are thousands of boys and girls in all 50 states, hundreds of qualifiers that take place. There are efforts now to expand the number of qualifiers, and we think that at the grassroots level that that's really where the impact is being felt, and we'll continue to do that and try to make it better.
Q. You referenced the differing views between some of the governing bodies regarding the discussion of distance and encourage the groups to work together. Do you have a concern that this would put the Augusta National Golf Club in a difficult position in helping to resolve that issue? And then, also, could you reference any input or advice you've given to Mr.Hyler in taking over your old duties?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, thank you. I will answer the second question first. One of the criteria that I had in selecting my successor for that role was to find someone who was better than I was. And I think I‑‑ I know I did. So not much advice needs to be given to Jim. He's got a lot of experience and is very qualified.
With regard to your question about the organizations in golf, we have had a very good relationship, not only with the governing bodies, but with the other organizations in golf for many years. I think that we have an open line of communication, I think that our opinions are received, respectfully, and I think that that dialog will continue as this issue evolves. So I'm not worried at all about that.
Q. Is this a‑‑ could you give us some background on the concept behind the Women's Amateur. Was this something that had been in the pipeline, or was it something that you brought to office when you were voted in?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think I would say that we are always looking for new ways to benefit and impact the game. And we start with the premise and the reality that we are very blessed to have the resources to do that.
I met with our senior staff in October and said that I thought that this was the right time to do this. It was the right time for the women's game. I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do it here. I thought for us to have the greatest impact on women's golf that we needed to be committed to do it here at Augusta National, and I also wanted to be able to tell all of you about it today.
So that was a pretty tall order to be given just five months ago. But in characteristic ways that our staff responds, they took that and were committed to be in the position for us to talk about this today. So we're looking forward to this event next year.
Q. If I could follow up, please?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Pardon me?
Q. Back here. Sorry. Could you talk in terms of why the club has taken such a lead role in growing the game starting with this announcement and going back in time.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Tim, I'm sorry, I hear you very well, but I can't always tell where the question's coming from. Thank you, Tim.
Tim, I think that goes back to really the inception of Augusta National. I read a lot in the past few months about things our founders said about really what our role and obligation was in the game of golf, and it's been a consistent theme and part of our culture that we have an obligation to give back to the game.
Originally that was through, exclusively through, the Masters Tournament. In more recent years, again, with the ability we have to do that, we have done a lot more. And I think really it really goes back to the founders' belief that Augusta National and the Masters was‑‑ had an obligation to contribute back to the game, and we're going to continue to do that.
Q. I was curious just since you were elevated to the chairmanship what the experience has been like and anything that's been unexpected or surprises or new challenges that you've encountered.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, as I mentioned, I've had a‑‑ I've been blessed to have a relationship with this club for many many years now, not only over half of our tournament's history, but well over half of my life. It's not something I really thought a lot about. I had a pretty big job here for the past 11 years, but I did have the benefit of having some insight as to about the job, working as chair of the Competition Committees.
It's probably a little bigger than I thought, but I've enjoyed the challenge and have been very honored to have been given this responsibility.
Q. Your predecessor often said he was in the hospitality business and really focused a lot of his attention on the enhancements for the patrons' experience here at the Masters. With your experience as a former competitor, do you see maybe your mission being more focused on the course and the competition angle and what kind of changes might you see in the near future?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I hope with this announcement today you have a pretty good idea of part of what my mission is. I think there's probably an assumption by many that because of my competitive golf background that that might be a focus. It certainly might be a primary focus, it certainly will be a focus, but as the Masters Tournament grows, so grows our facilities and what we have to do to make sure we continue to provide the experience to everyone involved that we want to provide.
And so there will be numerous initiatives here within our grounds and certainly outside the grounds that we'll be focused on. Our golf course will certainly be one of those.
Q. Just to clarify. Back here, Chairman. Will this event coincide with the ANA Inspiration?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Currently this event, if the schedule stays the same, it will be played the same week as the ANA Inspiration. We will finish this event on Saturday sometime in the early midafternoon. We have no intentions of competing or taking away from the ANA Inspiration. We think that to have one week where the future greats of the game and the current greats of the women's game are all competing on a big stage is‑‑ it's just very exciting.
So that was our thinking in doing this, and we have no intention of competing with that event or any other event.
Q. So a quick follow. Have you talked to Mike Whan? Are they looking at changing the date of the ANA Inspiration? Because otherwise you're going to have amateurs who might possibly have to choose between competing in the first women's major or this event.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Yeah, I have talked to Mike, and Mike understands our motivations for doing this. Our motivation to try to help grow the women's game. I think he also understands and agrees wholeheartedly that from a big picture this is a win for women's golf, and I think he also understands that in time it's going to be a win for the LPGA.
Q. Increasingly in the TOUR this year, players have complained about unruly crowds. That doesn't happen here. What is the club's philosophy behind the rules regarding the patrons?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, that's a good question because if you open the Patron Guide, on the first page there's a full page that deals with patron etiquette and a very memorable quote from Bobby Jones. It's something really that's part of our culture. We believe that it's important, not only here at the Masters, but in every tournament. I know there's been some incidents recently, but we take that part of our policies very seriously, and we will always take action to make sure that all of our policies are enforced, including that one.
Q. As you know, people can't get enough of this golf course. Will the new amateur event be on TV, and how can people get tickets for it?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: We certainly plan to have this event televised globally. We have not had any specific discussions with our television partners, but we have‑‑ as you know, we have great relationships with those television partners, and I wouldn't be surprised to have a couple messages on my desk when I get back in a few minutes.
As it relates to tickets, our intention would be to handle that as we do with the Drive, Chip & Putt. There will be a lottery for the tickets, and we don't know how many that there will be, and we don't share that information, but we do intend for this to attract, hopefully, a significant number of people that want to come to the National, to come to Augusta National to watch these great women players.
Q. If growing the game of golf and particularly the women's game and girls golf is your‑‑ is one of your main focuses here, what is the‑‑ what motivated you personally to take that on? What is it that you look at that and say: This is something I want to do?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, that's a‑‑ that's sort of a multipart question, or at least from an answer standpoint. We're already doing, in concert with others, a lot to promote the women's game. We certainly‑‑ through our Drive, Chip & Putt, we are‑‑ have been a founding supporter of the First Tee, which does a great job with boys and girls, and we also have been a supporter through the years of LPGA, USGA girls golf.
I just felt that there was an opportunity and a platform to make a statement as to how we feel about this part of the game. I just felt it was time to do that. I happen to have three daughters, and they all love golf. They're not really very good players, but they all love the game. And I know they're going to be really excited about this.
Q. They didn't know? You hadn't told them?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Maybe a hint.
Q. You mentioned that you've had‑‑ you've got encouragement from the governing bodies and other golf organizations about the feedback you've provided to them‑‑ or on the distance issue. What has that feedback been, and have you asked them specifically to explore any certain aspects of the distance issue as it pertains to the play of the tournament here?
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, as I mentioned, we do have an open dialog. I'm very familiar with the public statements that have been made recently. You know, our focus initially is on our golf course. We are intent on making sure that we maintain the design philosophy that Mr.Jones and Alister MacKenzie devised. And with the shot values that they thought were important, we have done what we felt was appropriate through the years to maintain that philosophy and that design, those design parameters.
There's a great quote from Bobby Jones dealing specifically with the 13th hole, which has been lengthened over time, and he said that the decision to go for the green in two should be a momentous one. And I would have to say that our observations of these great players hitting middle and even short irons into that hole is not a momentous decision.
And so we think there is an issue, not only there, but in the game generally, that needs to be addressed. The ultimate decision is going to be, I'm confident, a collective one. It's going to be one where all of the stakeholders sit down and come to some agreement.
From our perspective, we will always do what's necessary to maintain the integrity of our golf course. But as I said in my comments, I don't think that's the only approach to this. So my hope is that every organization, every stakeholder involved will look at this issue from a holistic basis and not only what might be in the best interests of their own organization.
We fully appreciate and want‑‑ do not want any action to be taken that's going to make golf harder. We have an obligation to grow the game, and so we're sensitive to that. So these issues don't always coincide. And like any difficult question, it requires compromise and debate. So as long as we're all talking to one another and looking out for what's in the best interest of the game, I'm confident that there's going to be a solution that's going to work for everyone.
Q. I would like to pose this one to Jim. Given the Chairman's background as a great amateur player, also as a former USGA president, do you see him as uniquely qualified to take a more active role in the shaping of policy for the game? And, if so, can you give some examples?
JIM HYLER: Well, I think that the chairmanship of Augusta National certainlygives him a unique place in the game. And I think as he just talked about in terms of the distance issue, that he will want to work to bring people together to talk through these issues. So we see our‑‑ not‑‑ we're not a governing body. That's the USGA and the R&A. But we have an obligation to be, I think, at the table and talking, but in a collaborative way.
Q. I was reminded by another reporter that 15 years ago here‑‑ I don't think we have to remember the names necessarily‑‑ it was maybe the most contentious time in terms of the issue of gender and women, maybe certainly at this club. I'm not sure any of us would have foreseen 15 years ago the announcement that you made today. So I'm curious if you could put into words that sweep of history, the cultural implications of what Augusta National‑‑ how far it has come. And maybe even‑‑ I don't know if you want to touch on the membership issue and if that is a continuing part of your idea to move the game forward, especially for women. Thank you.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, you won't be surprised to know that I wouldn't comment on a membership issue. But I will say that we are delighted to have several women among‑‑ as members in our club. They are great contributors. They have added to our culture. And while I won't go into specifics, I will assure you that there will be more women members at Augusta National.
Q. If I might follow up. Just the sweep of the last 15 years, I mean, it's been in many ways remarkable to see what you're doing now, and I'm curious if you could put that into your own words. Thanks.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, you know, golf's a great game. Hopefully it's color blind, it's blind as to gender. And I think golf's in a good place right now. I mean, I've never been a part of this week‑‑ this is my 42nd Masters. I have never been a part of this week where there's been any more excitement, and I hope today has added a little bit of excitement to this week.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Mr.Chairman, thank you very much. Jim, thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Thank you, Craig.
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