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April 10, 2024

Fred S. Ridley

Augusta, Georgia, USA

Press Conference

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Good morning, everyone. My name is Fred Ridley, and it is my privilege to serve as chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. On behalf of our membership, I would like to welcome everyone to the 88th Masters.

I'm joined again by two of my fellow members who serve important roles on behalf of the tournament. To my right is Jim Hyler, chairman of our Competition Committees, and to my left is Tom Nelson, chairman of the Media Committee. I thank both of them for their commitment throughout the year and especially during Masters week.

As many of you know, we like to recognize important milestones. I would like to begin with two that honor the spirit of serving amateurs and juniors, the 5th Augusta National Women's Amateur and the 10th Drive, Chip & Putt national finals. Congratulations to Lottie Woad for her exciting victory in the 2024 Augusta National Women's Amateur as well as our eight Drive, Chip & Putt national champions who won their divisions on Sunday.

At the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt finals in 2014, Chairman Billy Payne said he wanted to wait a few years before declaring the program a success. I believe Billy would agree the wait is over. With the help of our partners, the PGA of America and the USGA, we have seen 110 qualifiers in 19 states in year one grow to over 400 qualifiers in all 50 states for this qualifying season. We have witnessed national finalists win on the PGA TOUR and the LPGA Tour. Just this past Sunday we watched Akshay Bhatia withstand an unbelievable back nine 28 by Denny McCarthy to become the first Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist to qualify for the Masters.

Looking at the Augusta National Women's Amateur, the past participants have accounted for 13 wins on the LPGA Tour, 27 victories on the Ladies European Tour, and three major championships. The impact of this championship is a positive one for golf and one that will continue to foster strong competition from the best women amateurs around the world.

Turning to the Masters, Jon Rahm's win last year was very special. It was fitting that Jon won his Green Jacket on the birthday of fellow countryman Seve Ballesteros and on the 40th anniversary of Seve's second Masters win. Jon will defend his title this week against an excellent field that represents 23 countries and features 84 professionals and five amateurs.

Among those in the amateur contingent are Jasper Stubbs, who won the 2023 Asia-Pacific Golf Championship at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, and Santiago de la Fuente, who captured the 2024 Latin America Amateur Championship in Panama. Both are here to compete in the Masters. But equally significant, both will continue the mission of those two championships by inspiring current and future golfers from their respective regions.

As you may have seen over the past few days, the Augusta National golf course and grounds are again in exceptional condition. That is a credit to every member of our agronomy and horticulture teams whose passion and dedication are unmatched. It also is a tribute to Brad Owen, our senior director of agronomy, who is retiring this fall, 37 years after his arrival in Augusta.

Brad is with us today, and I want to thank him for always finding a way to elevate and enhance the natural beauty of Augusta National. Brad, we wish you and your family all the best in retirement.


CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Each year we look for ways to improve the golf course, to ensure it continues to challenge the best players in the world. One course change of note for this year's tournament is on No. 2, where we moved the tee back 10 yards and to the left. Historically, most competitors have been able to reach this par-5 in two, but the adjusted tee location will provide an added challenge as players consider second shots at the sloped dogleg left.

Adding distance to the Augusta National golf course has become standard operation over the past two decades. For almost 70 years, the Masters was played at just over 6,900 yards. Today the course measures 7,550 yards from the markers, and we may well play one of the tournament rounds this year at more than 7,600 yards. I've said in the past that I hope we will not play the Masters at 8,000 yards. But that is likely to happen in the not too distant future under current standards. Accordingly, we support the decisions that have been made by the R&A and the USGA as they have addressed the impact of distance at all levels of the game.

We continue to explore new ways to serve patrons, players, and our Augusta community. This week's tournament marks the opening of a new expansive concession, restroom and merchandise facility between No. 8 tee and No. 18 fairway. Like most of our tournament improvement projects, construction commenced in late May and was substantially complete upon opening of the club in October.

We also are delighted to introduce the first official Masters hospitality offering outside of the club's core property. The first phase of Map & Flag, named after the iconic Masters logo, opened this week across the street in Washington Road. This facility responds to the interest and demand expressed by patrons over many years who desire world-class hospitality combined with an authentic Masters experience. I'm pleased to announce that the second phase of Map & Flag will debut during the 2025 tournament.

One final piece of news on facilities I would like to share with you is the commencement this summer of a two-phase project that will significantly elevate the experience of all Masters competitors. Phase 1 will include underground parking and will be operational next year. The second phase of this project will open in 2026 and will feature a three-level state-of-the-art facility, designed to anticipate every need for players, their families, and support teams. We'll have more details when we are together next April.

An especially important update relates to our commitment to the renovation of the Augusta Municipal Golf Course, a community treasure better known as The Patch. The collaboration announced last year with the City of Augusta, Augusta Technical College, and the First Tee of Augusta aims to create affordable pathways to discover the game of golf as well as to develop tomorrow's leaders within the business and workforce of the game.

We have reached an agreement with the City of Augusta to lease this facility, and over the past year we have had multiple community input sessions with the many stakeholders who frequent The Patch. With the insightful feedback we received, we are on a great path to make significant improvements to The Patch and to the First Tee facilities.

In that regard, we have retained two of golf's most respected course designers, Tom Fazio and Beau Welling, to lead the renovation of this historic municipal course. Along with our partners, we are excited to get started next January with the goal of an April 2026 opening.

Today I want to honor the memory of our 1956 Masters champion, Jack Burke Jr., who passed away in January just 10 days shy of his 101st birthday. Jack's Masters story is one for all ages, charging from eight shots back on Sunday to win his Green Jacket.

I was fortunate to know Jack during the last two decades of his life, and I had the privilege to introduce him as the Memorial Tournament's honoree in 2009. I spoke with Jack before the Masters last year in hopes that he might attend the Champions Dinner. My hopes were up, and although that was not ultimately possible, his presence certainly was felt that evening. Jack's commitment to golf and to helping others was extraordinary, and I'm grateful he always will hold a prominent place in Masters history.

This past year we also lost another great of the game with the passing of Sir Michael Bonallack. Sir Michael was unquestionably Britain's greatest amateur golfer, having won five amateur championships. His successful playing career was matched by his lifelong service and dedication to the game of golf as secretary and later as captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Importantly, he also was the first chairman of the Official World Golf Rankings. Sir Michael was an ambassador and a champion of the game and a friend who will be dearly missed.

This year marks the conclusion of one of the most storied careers in golf broadcasting. I still get chills when hearing the famous calls by an incredible Verne Lundquist of two of the most iconic Sunday moments in Masters history: Jack Nicklaus in 1986, with putter raised following a crucial putt into the hole on No. 17 on his way to his sixth Masters title; and in 2005 Tiger Woods' unbelievable pitch shot on No. 16, which catapulted him to his fourth Green Jacket. Who could forget the drama as Tiger's ball stopped momentarily and then fell into the hole? You're right, Verne, we have not seen anything like that.

This Masters will mark Verne's 40th and final call behind the CBS microphone, and late last year, Sean McManus, chairman of the CBS Sports, announced that he would retire after this tournament. The Masters and CBS have enjoyed a unique and special partnership that spans seven decades. The talent on the course and the leadership at the network are two of the many reasons why. Thank you, Sean and Verne, for your friendship and for what you have meant to the Masters.

In closing, I would like to remind everyone that this week marks the 75th anniversary of the winner of the Masters receiving the Green Jacket. Sam Snead was the first recipient of that honor in 1949. This milestone is an occasion to step back and reflect upon the obligation of the Masters Tournament to serve as a steward for the game.

There are many positive developments in golf to celebrate. Participation is up, and new courses and clubs are emerging around the world, which creates more opportunities to attract more people of all demographics. Golf's unique attributes as a game to be enjoyed by a lifetime are now being recognized by many.

I believe everyone agrees there's excitement in the air this week. The best players in the world are together once again. The competition will be fierce. Families are reunited, and friendships will be renewed. The best golf has to offer is on center stage. That is good for everyone, certainly players, but also our partners, volunteers, the Augusta community, and its many local charities, and especially our patrons and fans around the world.

As solutions are pursued to bridge the current divide in men's professional golf, I hope there will be a focus on these and the other stakeholders who are the fabric of tournament golf, all of whom represent the values and virtues of the game. It is this culture that makes golf the greatest game. That is our focus once again this week, and it will always be for many years to come.

With that, Tom, I'm happy to take some questions.

THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you, Mr. Chairman. We're ready to open up for questions. Please remember to speak directly into the microphone.

Q. You just referenced the impact that the amateur and junior events that you've been associated with and what they have done. How did the club and why did the club feel it was necessary to create those, and is there more to achieve?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, there's always more to achieve. I would go back to really what I believe is one of the key parts of the mission of the club and that is to serve the game of golf. Clifford Roberts was quoted many times saying that. And that's why, the primary reason why, the Masters Tournament was started in the first place. It was to, obviously, showcase the world's best talent, but also it was really to serve the game of golf and to make the enjoyment of the game available to our patrons and others involved in the game.

The first one of these great initiatives, Drive, Chip & Putt, which was started 10 years ago, was a vision of my predecessor, Billy Payne. Billy took the Masters and our brand outside of the gates for the first time, really. He felt that the best way to create excitement and to create heroes and to motivate people was to put young people, boys and girls, here at Augusta to go through qualifying stages with a dream of being able to showcase their talents here at Augusta.

I think there's a lot of evidence that proves that Billy was right. As I said, the wait is over. We've had many, many young people go on to be successful at other stages of golf, and of course we were excited last week when Akshay Bhatia won on the PGA TOUR for the second time, although this one got him an invitation to the Masters.

So I think it's really just to continue to perpetuate the mission of this club, and we'll continue to look for ideas to continue to do that.

Q. My question is about technology. I think it probably would have surprised a lot of people at one point to know that there would be a drone flying down Magnolia Lane into the clubhouse and out the Crow's Nest window. How do you -- what's your philosophy on striking a balance between embracing innovation and technology and maintaining the legacy and tradition and mystique of the club and tournament?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, you've just identified a question I think a lot about, and that is we certainly want to progress, we want to try new things, we want to continue our mission to reach out and to grow the game, but at the same time I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that part of the magic of this place is those traditions and the mystique that you said.

So I think it's a case of being -- maybe having a degree of self-awareness and accept and be comfortable who we are but at the same time not be afraid to try things from time to time.

So I think what we'll do is continue to use the great intellect and creativity of the folks on our staff in our content and digital endeavors but at the same time try to be true to our mission and who we are and just remember those things that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Jones had in mind when they created the club.

But it's a balance, and it's not always easy.

Q. There's been a lot of talk recently about the decline in television viewership numbers, and this week is seen as a measuring stick. Just wondered your impressions of that. Is the friction in the game right now the cause of it, and how concerned are you about that?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think that I would be speculating if I said that, but it's certainly one possibility. I think part of it is just what's happening in the world of media and the fact that people are consuming content in different ways, that's happening in all sports, mobile phones, apps, social media channels, etcetera.

But that's the case with all sports. I will acknowledge that, if you look at the data this year, golf viewers are down linear television while other sports, some other sports are up. So you can draw your own conclusions. Certainly the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful. Whether or not there's a direct causal effect, I don't know. But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often.

Q. My question goes back to Augusta and the club's continuous involvement in so many organizations in this town. How do you determine which organizations you're going to support year after year? How do you know that there's a need there?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think there's a need in every community, and I think those of us who -- I spend a lot of time here, although I'm not a resident, and I'm sure that those of you who are residents can appreciate the need for as much help as we and others can provide.

Historically, we have been somewhat passive in our support. We have been passive only in the publicity side. We have been very involved through the Community Foundation for many years. But we have sort of kept it a secret. What I felt was that, while we don't really seek any credit because we always like to work with others to -- one plus one equals three, but we have to recognize with all due humility the convening power that Augusta National has. And we ought to use that convening power to do good things.

So that was really the impetus behind us becoming more active, more intentional in what we were doing. I think it's helping. I think it's really helping us to be a better citizen of the community of Augusta. I mean, obviously most of you know and we've talked about the HUB and what it's doing, and there are various other programs such as First Step Staffing and Child Enrichment and Junior Achievement and others that we're involved in, and we're going to continue to accelerate that over time as we're able to deploy assets that we're fortunate to have right here in our community in Augusta.

Q. When you talk about getting all the best players together again this week, going forward, how will you assure that happening? How will you measure LIV players barring a change in criteria?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, there's been a lot of discussion about that, and presently we do use the Official World Golf Rankings. As you know, we're on the board of the OWGR. We believe that it is a legitimate determiner of who the best players in the game are. There's been communication that's been public regarding, you know, the LIV's application, which it subsequently was withdrawn after some remedial suggestions were made regarding pathways and access to players and concern about some of the aspects of team golf.

But I think in our case, we're an invitational, and we can adjust as necessary. I mean, a great example is this year Joaquin Niemann was given a special invitation. We felt that Joaquin had not only a great record coming up to this year, but after his season, you know, he went to Australia, played very well there, finished fourth in the Australian PGA, won the Australian Open, one of the great, great championships in the world. And we thought he was deserving of a special invitation.

Now, historically, and as stated in our qualification criteria, we consider international players for special invitations. But we do look at those every year and we, I will say that if we felt that there were a player or players, whether they played on the LIV Tour or any other tour, who were deserving of an invitation to the Masters, that we would exercise that discretion with regard to special invitations.

Q. Chairman Ridley, Vijay Singh this week came out saying that he thought the 12th hole should be lengthened by 10 yards.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Did I say that? Oh, Vijay. I'm sorry.

Q. No. I believe it's the only hole on the course that has never been lengthened. And as a former participant and now chairman, for the record I would like to know, what do you think of the hole, and do you think it will ever be touched?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, ever is a long time. I would say with a hundred percent certainty that it would not be lengthened during my tenure. That's almost like asking, you know, can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit. I mean, I think that the 12th hole at Augusta is the most iconic par-3 in the world. It has been and I won't say it always will be, but I think it always will be.

There's something about -- I don't know what it is, but there's something about the topography, the trees, the wind, the beauty that just -- it just captures your imagination. When you combine that with the history that's been made there, I mean, the most recent being the tragedies and triumphs when Tiger Woods won in 2019. You know, Freddie Couples' ball, you know, hanging up on the edge of Rae's Creek, which is part of the -- made part of the song "Augusta."

And so I just think it is such an iconic hole that's had so many important moments in the Masters that I'm not sure that another 10 yards would really make a difference. Players are hitting short irons, but doesn't seem to matter, the hole is very difficult.

Q. Following up on the question about TV ratings, there is one sport that we have seen the last couple weeks that is definitely going through the roof, as we know, thanks to one person, Caitlin Clark, obviously a singular player, the nation's fascination. Golf has seen that with women's golfers, certainly Nancy Lopez 1978, five in a row, "Sports Illustrated" cover. Michelle Wie and the fascination. You are stewards of the game, and you obviously are working very hard on the women's side as well, Fred, and I'm just curious, when you look at what's going on with Nelly Korda, four in a row, but there just doesn't seem to be moving the needle, she doesn't seem to be moving the needle at all. Such minimal coverage. I'm curious, compared to what's going on with basketball and Caitlin Clark, if that's a concern for you, and why you think that's happening that Nelly is getting so little attention compared to someone like Caitlin Clark. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Thank you, and thank you for that wonderful article you wrote recently about the Augusta National Women's Amateur. I think that every once in a while somebody comes along that just captures the imagination of the sporting world. And I say "sporting world" because it really goes beyond basketball.

I have to confess that in spite of my love of the game and the women's game of golf, that I haven't watched a lot of women's basketball, but I watched the last three or four games that Iowa played this year. So there you go. I mean, it's just the way she plays, the way Caitlin plays the game, her passion, her energy, it just -- it really just captures the imagination of the fans.

So, you know, we hope that more people will come along like that, and certainly we hope that people will come along in golf. You know, I do think that it illustrates, though, one very interesting thing is that, for the time being anyway, Caitlin Clark is an amateur. She's a collegiate player. And so we think that the young women who play here in the Augusta National Women's Amateur have that same capability. There's something about, even with all the change in rules and NIL and transfer portal, but amateur athletes just have an appealing characteristic to me. And particularly the young ones.

So we hope that we'll continue to have compelling individuals come through here to play in our tournament. We've had some in the past, and you wrote about one in your article. So we just -- we have to keep trying. There's more things we need to do. We're going to continue to think about that, to explore ways. But I just think it's sort of a kind of a unicorn, really, we need more unicorns in that regard.

Q. Not having OWGR points now and having withdrawn their application, the LIV Tour and some of their players have suggested that the majors need to directly give them spots. A couple things: Have you had any direct communication with them on that issue, and could you see a time where you would give them direct access via their order of merit or a series of tournaments, what have you?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Yeah, I don't know the answer to that. I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that had any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they're basically, not totally, but for the most part, a closed shop. There are some -- there is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new player they sign.

So, and those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don't think -- and, again, I'm repeating myself a little bit, but I don't think that that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.

Our goal is to have, to the greatest extent possible, the best field in golf, the best players in the world. Having said that, we never have had all the best players in the world because of the structure of our tournament. It's an invitational. It's limited field, it's a small field.

We've always honored our past champions, many of whom, some of whom, I should say, would not necessarily be in an open competition, but they add a lot to this tournament. They're a part of our history. Last night was one of the most magical nights I've ever been involved in in golf. Listening to these great champions talk about what the Masters means to them.

We also honor amateurs. We would normally have seven amateurs in the field but for a couple of great players who decided to turn pro. So we're a little bit different situation. But we do have that flexibility, as I mentioned earlier, and I would not foreclose that we would consider that, you know, in the future.

Q. You reiterated your support for the USGA and the R&A, but you also did not sound as if they went far enough. Is that a correct reading of your comments mentioning 8,000 yards, and how did the decision on changing testing or how will it impact your plans for the golf course in the immediate future?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, assuming that these regulations are adopted by the PGA TOUR and the other tours, and I certainly hope they will be, I think were they not adopted it would cause a great deal of stress in the game, which it doesn't need right now.

As I understand, and I don't think it's across the board, but, I mean, if you use 5 percent as an approximate number, a player hitting it 320 yards is going to lose 16 yards. So, I mean, that's not insignificant. What we found, though, over the years is that we lengthen the golf course, everybody says it's really long, and then two or three years later it's not so really long.

So my guess is that even when this change is implemented that maybe other aspects of technology that are within the rules and the physicality and ability, technical ability of the players will catch up. I mean, I don't believe that we will start building new tees closer to the greens. It's a possibility, I suppose, but I doubt it. Particularly since this is not going to be implemented for quite some time.

So I think we have some time to look and see what's going to happen. We have some more room, but we don't have a lot. So I'm holding to that 8,000-yard red line, and I just hope we never get there.

Q. We have seen how the Augusta Women's Amateur has created tremendous access for the amateurs in the women's game. Has there been any thought about doing something in the future that would give access to this course for the professional women in the game, like a one-off Solheim Cup or a similar style event that included other people in the world?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I think the answer is yes. I think we've addressed this question in the past and there are some fundamental difficulties in that. We happily were able to find a way to have a competition for juniors and a competition for women amateurs sort of wrapped around the Masters Tournament, and it just seems to fit really well.

To have another tournament of any kind would be very difficult based on our season, based on the fact that this is essentially a winter and spring golf course. It doesn't -- it's not open in the summer. It doesn't play the way we want it to play in the fall for a major tournament. We did have one, one time, and Dustin Johnson did very well.

And as a matter of fact, he pulled me aside -- we had a nice conversation after the Champions Dinner last night, and he said, You know, I think my 20-under is safe.

And I said, Well, I think I think you're right, unless we have another tournament in November.

And he said, Well, I think it's still safe.

So we really have a limited period of time we could play any additional event. We close in the third week of May. Then you add the element of something that was brought up I think in the first question about sort of the mystique and the magic. And, you know, we need to make sure that we really respect the mystique and the magic of the Masters. So we would have to think long and hard to have another golf tournament.

Q. Last year you added length to Hole No. 13. You had a week in which it was very wet, golf course was softer, so I assume the data was incomplete, maybe you have a window or you're looking at three to five years of the accumulated results. What did last year tell you, reveal, and what is the window to determine how effective that length is going to be?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think you said three to five years. That's probably a pretty good bracket, just to take into consideration all possible types of weather. We did have a couple days last year where we think the data was relevant. I forget which two days it was, they were not two consecutive days. I know Saturday wasn't one of 'em, so maybe it was Thursday and Sunday. I'm not sure. But, anyhow, I think one of the things that we, that was interesting, is that I think the scoring average was maybe even better last year than it was the previous year. But one thing I do know for certain is that, in the two days we had data, that more players went for the green in two on their second shot, that went for the green in two, than did the previous year. Now, there's a real simple reason for that. If you look at the scatter chart from the year before there were a lot of balls up in the trees. Last year those same drives didn't reach the trees and they were a little bit further to the right, the perfect drive. They were further from the green, but they were in the fairway. 250 yards is not a problem for most of these guys. So, it kind of brought back, in a way, that momentous decision that Bobby Jones talked about and really, in sort of a counterintuitive way, made the hole a more exciting hole. The concern by many was that by making it longer we were going to take the excitement out of it. It was going to become more of a three-shot hole. That's not the case. So, I was really happy to see that data, because it really showed that more players are pulling out their hybrids or even three metals or five metals and going for the green and that was established by that data last year.

Q. I want to go back, Mr. Chairman, to that relationship, that partnership between Augusta National and the Augusta Municipal Golf Course. As you know, there's a lot of shared history here, a lot of the caddies who worked here played golf over there. I just want to know about that relationship and what the relationship with The Patch means to you and what changes we might really expect to see on the ground over there.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, the planning is still in process. I think it has almost unlimited potential. I mean, you're right, it has a lot of history. We're going to honor that history. Well, for example, we're not going to build a new clubhouse. We're going to, there's been a lot of history in that clubhouse, and we're going to hopefully make it nicer and freshen it up. But, yeah, we're going to, the main thing we're going to try to do is to really provide a great golf course and practice area and possibly a short course.

As I mentioned, we hired Tom and Beau to help us with that. It's really going to be a hub for junior and high school golf. Also, you know, one aspect that I'm really excited about is the Golf Management Program that Augusta Tech has.

So it's really a confluence of a lot of different elements of the game that can really be a great thing for Augusta. So, while planning is still in process, we'll have more details next year, I think it's just going to be fantastic.

THE MODERATOR: Well, this concludes our press conference. Thank you all for your time today and enjoy the 88th Masters Tournament.

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