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April 8, 2009
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 2009 Masters Tournament. I'm joined today by the Chairman of our Competition Committees, Mr. Fred Ridley, and of course the Chairman of our Media Committee, Mr. Craig Heatley.
We are also pleased this week to formally introduce our new Director of Communications, Mr. Steve Ethun. I hope you have met Steve. Steve has been charged with the important responsibility of providing you with the environment and the resources necessary for you to do your job, and I know he'll do it well, as he, too, realizes the important role that you play in the success of our Tournament. And I personally appreciate your critical role in the history, the tradition, and in the future of the Masters Tournament. It will never, never be diminished.
All Masters Tournaments are indeed, special, and this year is no exception. 2009 marks the 75th anniversary of the inaugural Augusta National Invitation Tournament. And this year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first award of our famous green jacket to our great Champion, Sam Snead.
Our first international Champion and three-time winner Gary Player will compete this week for the 52nd time. Thank you, Gary, and well done.
Most importantly, I think this year, we have paused to express our heartfelt affections and prayers for the complete recovery by our 1980 and 1983 Champion, Seve Ballesteros, a true champion and fierce competitor, Seve continues to inspire us all with his passion and his determination. We look forward to his return to Augusta.
As is always the case, work has proceeded at a significant pace at Augusta National since last year's Masters and throughout the summer. As I think you have already seen, substantial progress has been made to our new practice area and we very much look forward to an on-time opening for next year's Tournament. Approximately 4,500 parking spaces have been added to our new principle parking area across Berckmans Road.
With these additions, and others planned for the short term, we look forward to the achievement of our goal to be one of the few, if not the only, major sporting event in the world that can offer free parking to all of our Patrons.
As all of you already know, the golf course changes this year are relatively minor. We shortened the first hole by ten yards to now permanently create improved Patron access between the putting green and the rear of the tee. We reforested a previously unlandscaped and unnecessarily large area behind No. 17 tee, and at the same time added approximately ten yards to the front of the tee to be used in difficult weather conditions. We added ten yards to the front of the 15th tee and widened the landing area on the right side, hoping to encourage more players to attempt their second shot to this historically exciting green.
And finally, with regard to our golf course, and on behalf of all of our Members, we continue to admire, to appreciate and to enjoy the magnificent work of Marsh Benson and his team. I hope you will agree that our golf course is in truly perfect condition. Thank you, Marsh.
You will recall that last year we announced a continuing effort to utilize the Masters representation and resources to help grow the game worldwide to supplement the significant monetary contributions we have been making to domestic efforts for many, many years.
In 2008, I believe we achieved a modest beginning by focusing on kids and our efforts to attract them to the game. We instituted our junior pass program, allowing free admission to a child of our Patrons between the ages of 8 and 16. It was a resounding success and will be continued this week.
We televised the Par 3 Contest for the first time, and we are pleased with the results. This year will be even more youth-friendly as gallery set up and on-air production will be modified to make it even more exciting and entertaining for current and future golfers.
Last year, we made significant changes to our presence on Masters.com. We stated our goal was to communicate with our fans, and especially kids, in the manner in which they want content delivered in this 21st century digital world. In this area, we intend to lead, to innovate, but never to abandon the relationships that made us who we are; the 5,000 years of collective coverage of the Masters sitting in this room today.
Last year we introduced full-screen streaming video, photo sharing and blogs. This year, we debut our Enhanced Video Console, allowing the user to maintain a primary viewing channel, while simultaneously accessing other video feeds of live action on the course.
We offer a new destination to mobile device users at m.masters.com, allowing access to enhanced graphics, live storing, statistics, messaging, video highlights and many other features.
And, thanks to our partners IBM and AT&T, we will stream live video for the first time for a golfing event to their iPhone users.
Finally, as it relates to our improved internet offerings, and thanks again to IBM, we will showcase "Masters Data Lab." It will present in a virtual way, and in an interactive way, historical data of a vast archive of Masters history and statistics.
Last year we made reference to our desire to celebrate and support amateur golf as a way of creating heroes for other kids to admire and to emulate; to encourage them to take up this great game and benefit from the honesty, discipline and fair play it teaches.
You are all aware that we recently joined with the R&A and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation in announcing the creation of the Asian Amateur Championship to be conducted annually throughout Asia, commencing next fall in China, 2010 in Japan and rotating throughout Asia thereafter. We do believe that the ultimate prize of a Masters invitation will inspire kids to take up this game, and through time, dramatically increase interest and participation in golf in the region.
Along with the R&A, we will financially underwrite the event, and we will make available the organizational skills of our staff and Members to help in any way that our help is requested.
So, thank you, Peter Dawson, for once again leading the R&A's efforts to set such a positive influence in the world of golf. Thank you, Peter.
Just as Mr. Roberts often said, I, too, believe, that hearing from our Patrons is critically important to our on-going success. This there are we will continue this year as last to seek on course and on-line comments and ideas from Masters fans in an effort to ensure that we are doing everything possible to present our Tournament and to undertake our international efforts on behalf of the game exactly how people would expect Augusta National to do it.
Last year we received tens of thousands of responses and comments, and our Tournament and our effort to grow the game globally had and will continue to benefit accordingly. Our on-course responses contained scores of good ideas. We listened, and as a direct consequence, this year we introduced new concession stands in all five of our on-course locations. They replaced unsightly tents, and are designed to create the sense of place expected at Augusta National and are engineered to facilitate and improve the Patron experience.
We listened, and smoking will no longer be permitted in any Patron stand, or any other designated seating area on the course. Additional restrooms and significantly more picnic areas have been constructed. Many select brands of snacks and beverages, missed by our Patrons last year, are being returned.
And in response to the literally hundreds of comments we had, I'm proud to say that our barbeque sandwiches, so popular on the course, are now being served heated. (Laughter).
We listened; we listened, and we took action.
Similarly our on-line fans shared thousands of ideas about how to grow the game globally. It will come as no surprise that most were concerned with the high cost of the game and the shortage of courses and practice areas available to juniors. Many more than we expected said the amount of time it takes to play golf was a recurring and substantial hurdle in growing the game globally, especially to a targeted, youthful audience. Almost all of our responses confirmed the importance of role model development in developing and increasing youth involvement.
Well, these are complicated issues, and obviously issues requiring long-term, strategic approaches, and most importantly, partnerships among the major golfing organizations of the world. We at Augusta National don't claim to have all of the answers. I'm not sure we have any of the answers. But the continued growth and prosperity of this great game is to important not to try.
We will continue to aggressively look for additional ways to make the Masters a magnet for youth interested in the game. Whether through continued modifications of our Tournament admissions policy, or further refinements of our Internet presentation; once again, we intend to lead.
To that end, for example, we have recently embarked upon an extensive study of an appropriate programatic element for optimizing the development of shorter courses and practice areas that are more conducive to youth play, while at the same time, substantially less expensive to build and maintain. And through time, the Asian Amateur Championship will provide a way to measure the effectiveness of role model creation on the growth of the game; and if successful, as we hope and expect it will be, will cause us to seek similar partnerships and opportunities around the world.
This week, however, we turn our undivided, individual and collective attention to the conduct of the Masters Tournament, and hope that once again, this great tradition of springtime will bring joy and happiness to all of our fans. We continue to believe that the celebration of sport is important, even in difficult economic times.
The Masters Golf Tournament was conceived 75 years ago in the middle of the Great Depression. Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts had a vision of giving back to the game that had been so good to them. This vision has continued over the years through good times and bad times. It is stronger today than ever before, as we move globally to inspire young people to take up this game, and preserve its values and learn its lessons.
Our goal has always been and remains to provide our Patrons, our global television audience and young people throughout the world an exciting, competitive and yet beautiful view of the game of golf. Thank goodness our sponsors and broadcast partners share these values, and at the same time promote their goods and services in a profitable, yet understated manner; and thereby make it possible for our vision to be achieved, and we thank each and every one of them, because of their continued support, we are able to keep ticket prices at a minimum, allow young people entry for free, serve food, snacks and beverages of the highest quality below our cost, and importantly, give tens of millions of dollars to community charities in golf development organizations.
Our Tournament is run by our Members and thousands of volunteers who work with us each year to achieve what we hope will be an outstanding and memorable moment in sports history.
Craig, if you don't mind, I'm ready to take on some questions about the Masters.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Questions, please.
Q. Mr. Payne, as you mentioned, we did not see any effort to add length to the course since last year, is Augusta National finally as long as it needs to be?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I won't be Chairman when that decision is ultimately made, I think. We took ten yards off this year.
You know, I think we have it about right. I would be quick to add that this week is an important test. Since the most recent, substantial changes to the course in 2006, we have not had good weather over the weekend. The players have not, in fact, had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills against the competitive test of the course.
It looks like we are going to have some pretty good weather this weekend, and so I think we will continue to look at that. But I think we are going to see some good scores shot this week, and we are going to see the course played as it was designed to be played when those changes were made. I think we are going to be pleased with the results.
Q. Mr. Payne, there's been a lot written leading into the Masters about how the thrills are gone and the back nine charges are gone. Do you agree with that, and if you don't, does it at least concern you that people are thinking about the Masters that way?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Well, no one wants to hear the roars and the excitement more than the Members and the volunteers who put on the Tournament. And it is true that through the years, we have become accustomed to those. It is also through that over the last couple of years, there have not been as many.
I maintain that it has been a consequence of the difficult playing conditions, mostly attributable to the weather on the weekend days of the last several years.
If the weather, in fact, is better this week, I think we will have, Doug, the first real test, and then I'll be glad to answer the question again.
Q. The talk early on that you mentioned about youth-friendly part of your broadcast, wonder if you can elaborate a little bit more on what makes it youth-friendly? And also along the mobile device, obviously you can have it on your phones and BlackBerries outside the gates, but is there any plan in the future to offer handheld scoring systems for Patrons as they do at PGA TOUR events?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: The second question about mobile devices, the answer is no. There are no plans, and that may out-live my Chairmanship.
The with respect to the first part of your question, the improvements to the Par 3, we have some new camera deployment at the Par 3, several additional cameras. We have an overhead camera, which is going to go over Ike's Pond, which is going to show an incredible view of our Patrons and fans as they are watching the event.
I have seen some prototypes; it's really spectacular, and then we are going to make substantially more autograph areas more available to kids. We are going to try to limit autograph and excitement and contact with the players essentially to kids only, and I think that will both speed up play by putting them in designated areas, as well as make it more fun for the kids.
Q. The youth-friendly part of the broadcast, are you having any plans that it will go Thursday through Sunday or is this just strictly for the Par 3?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: We do not yet have any other television production plans that have addressed that issue, but that's a pretty good idea. We need to look at that.
Q. I understand there was some emotional speeches made last night during the Champions Dinner. Could you share with us some of the atmosphere and what that was like last night?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about it, because I'm an invited guest, you know.
I think you probably already know. JosĂ© Maria OlazĂˇbal read a letter from Seve to his fellow champions. It was very emotional, very loving, and as it was read, you could feel in the air the reciprocation from his friends and former Champions, going all the way back to Spain. It was an amazing, amazing moment.
Gary introduced Trevor, the host and last year's Champion, with all of the dignity and all of the professionalism we have come to expect from Gary. It was a fantastic speech. Talked about the first time they met when Trevor was five years old, and it was pretty special. I was glad to be there. It was fun.
Q. Did Crenshaw cry or can you say?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I don't say. (Laughter).
Q. Given your background, I was interested in hearing your thoughts on golf's Olympic bid, and I'll try to cover Peter's ears so you can say whatever you want to say and whether you like the chances; whether you have heard anything from your connections, assuming you still have any at the IOC, and your thoughts on the format, all of those various issues.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: First and foremost, I'm an advocate of anything that will positively influence the growth of the game around the world, and I can think of nothing that would do it on a more accelerated basis than it becoming a part of the Official Programme of the Olympic Games. So overwhelming support it in that area.
We as an organization, as part of the World Golf Federation, of course, embrace their endorsement, and I think it would be a wonderful addition. While I don't know how to assess the odds, I'm very hopeful that it will be successful.
Q. Of all of the places in the world that might not be affected by the world economic downturn, this might be kind of high on the list, but has, in fact, the world economy affected the Tournament and the Club in any way, your plans or anything like that?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I can say that, no, sir, it has not yet affected the Club. I think we, as would all events, or endeavors, for that matter, if it is prolonged for multiple additional years, we would, of course, expect to be impacted.
But based on our conservative planning that's gone on now for several decades, we expect to be here every year and do it at the same level that we have been able to do it for prior years.
Q. With respect to the so-called new Augusta and the rough, the trees and so forth, the length, how would you categorize the comments you have received from players; complaints, observations or what?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Well, I have not received any directly. (Laughter) I've read about a lot of them.
You know, I would make the analogy that, you know, criticism hurts a little bit, and not as much to me as the entirety of the enterprise, the employees, the staff, the Members.
It's like when you go to a piano recital of one of your granddaughters and you hear somebody say, "Boy, that's the worst kid I've ever seen." It hurts your feelings. (Laughter).
But most of the people I have read that comment from, they are certainly entitled to their opinion. I am hoping that the consequence of good weather and further thinking about the course and the strategic approach to the course through time will eliminate most of that criticism.
You know, we just deal with it until then.
Q. Mr. Payne, you said that you had not received any comments from players directly. Would you be open to receiving comments from players directly?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: (Smiling) Well, there's not much risk of a direct dialogue, I don't think. I think they have more subtle ways of expressing their opinions, both the favorable ones and the ones that could perhaps be critical.
But I'm aware of them, and I start thinking about them, and, you know, continue to blame the weather. (Laughter).
Q. A couple of questions with regard to Asia.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Yes, sir.
Q. On the Asian Amateur, was it actually your idea to offer up the berth in the Masters for the winner? Secondly --
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Our Committee.
Q. Okay. Not yours?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Well, you know, could be one and the same. (Laughter).
Q. Can you share any of the progress that's been made in the last couple of months with regard to the buy-in from the various nations that are involved there and logistics?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: There has been tremendous out pouring of excitement that we have experienced and has been told to us, written to us, written about us, written about the event; and so I think the excitement level is very, very high.
In terms of the logistics of the operation of the Tournament, what exactly we want it to be like, feel like, that work is being undertaken now between the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation and with us and the R&A as they ask for assistance.
And so that is evolving, but I can promise you it will be in place way before the Tournament, so it's an exciting project.
Q. And lastly, given all of the activity in the Asian region and projected growth there, would the Masters be open to a quote, unquote, fifth major, in that region?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Never even thought about that. I don't think I should even answer that. I kind of like four. It's an even number.
Q. I wonder if you could clarify the smoking policy. No smoking where the chairs are set?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Correct. They are marked as: "Seated Areas, No Smoking," so there won't be any confusion.
Q. Is that the only place where smoking is not allowed on the course?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: In stands and seating areas.
Q. More to Fred Ridley, perhaps, can you talk about course setup philosophy over the last two years; it seems like there has been a trend to weed out pretenders from contenders and set the course up Saturday and Sunday more scorable. Can you talk about that and changing things at all this year?
FRED RIDLEY: There definitely over the course of the years have been some traditional pin placements on Sunday, for sure. I think the philosophy that we have tried to employ is, No. 1, to start with course conditions on Monday to carry throughout the week.
As Chairman Payne has mentioned, Marsh Benson and Brad Owen and their team do a great job in that regard. As far as actual course setup, there is obviously a variation with regard to pin placements and tee locations, and we try to balance that out.
Now, you know, it's not a science, exactly, and so you end up some days may play a little bit harder than others. There's no preconceived notion in that regard, and again, I'll fall back on the weather, the weather excuse. But you really don't know until you know what the forecast is going to be.
But we definitely do take the weather into consideration when we are setting up the course. We have preliminary pin placements and as the weather forecast becomes more definite, we will make the adjustments as necessary.
Q. Mr. Payne, last year you offered an invitation to Prayand Marksaeng of Thailand, he came here, he was hurt, he struggled through the Tournament and was very disappointed when he left and he committed himself to getting back. How rewarding is it and how much do you know about his personal story and how rewarding is it for a guy that you offered an exemption to earn his way back in?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Oh, it's fantastic. I have not followed his career specifically since last year when we knew he was hurt. You know, we want him to come back and earn their way back, and never let the first time be the last time.
Q. There's such anticipation here about Tiger Woods, and what his performance may be. I'm curious if you share that anticipation.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Absolutely. I was saddened, as were all golf fans, from the number of months that he did not play. You know, I lose the adjectives describing his ability when he won the U.S. Open with those two unbelievably severe injuries.
You know, he is a very, very special person; a man who decides the outcome and then he undertakes a strategy; where the rest of us, we all adopt strategies hoping to get to an outcome. He does it just the other way, and he's a really remarkable person.
I can't wait. I've never been on the golf course to watch any golf in 11 years, because I had this media job and y'all kept me a prisoner down here, but I think I'm going to go watch him play a few holes tomorrow (smiling).
Q. One of the three teenagers playing this week is Ryo Ishikawa from Japan; how did you find him? Did somebody call from Japan last year? And secondly, what do you expect of him?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: We knew all about his career, his early success; the fact that he was, indeed, a young phenomena in Japan and throughout Asia. We thought that inviting him would jump start our initiative of creating heroes that other kids could emulate. That's a big part of building the game, and I think he's going to go a long way to do that in Japan, and if he continues his success, all over the world.
Q. I'm sure you took note of the statistical oddity in the Official World Rankings where Davis Love missed the cut at Bay Hill, and as it turned out, had he entered, he would have qualified here. Does that concern you in any way or make you rethink any of your eligibility?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: It's concerning to me from the point of view that Davis is one of my great friends, being from Georgia, and I've known him quite a long time.
However, as it relates to the overall way it came; and take him out of the picture as a personal friend, that's the way the ball bounces. There's no such thing as a perfect system, and you have to adopt some system. We do the one we think is best for us, and sometimes perhaps it doesn't work perfectly.
But he's going to get back. He's going to get back.
Q. Two-part question. First part, the USGA, beginning next year, will have a new policy for grooves that will affect the professionals that play here. Is the Club in agreement with that?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Yes. We generally embrace the Rules of Golf as articulated by the R&A and the USGA, and there won't be an exception there.
Q. The groove rule, it's supposed to make driving accuracy relevant again. If that's the case, will it still be necessary to have a first cut, or will you go back to the way the course was originally?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: We have no plans to change the first cut, second cut, other than as we tweak it every year, and there are substantial changes every year going back to the 1930s. There's always been some higher grass as you approach the pine straw here, and it's tweaked a little bit every year for Patron viewing, for drainage, for all kinds of course-related and competitive-related reasons.
But we don't think that that particular rule will have any impact on our thinking for the future.
Q. I was curious your thoughts on Greg Norman's return; seems like a unique connection to the Tournament's history, given how often he contended and was unable to wind?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I am very excited. In fact, a few weeks ago when he was here for a practice round, I went out and followed him for a few holes and introduced myself and told him how excited we were. He's another one of those guys that can will his way to a certain point.
You know, I wouldn't write him off. What he did at the British Open was truly remarkable, and he's a competitor. I can't wait to see him here.
Q. Just wanted to follow up on the criteria. Are you comfortable with where it is; is there any concern about the way, because you take THE TOUR Championship field, and the way the FedExCup went last year, was there any concern about the size of the field, and are you comfortable now with the way they have redone the FedExCup thing, system.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: We are always comfortable with what we do until we change what we do. (Laughter).
That's another way of saying, as you know Doug, we look at it every year. Post-Masters, we will spend a whole month looking at nothing but qualifications and whether we need to change it a little bit.
Q. Do you anticipate keeping it the same?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I don't know yet. We haven't had that month. Yes; I don't know anything that would lead me to believe that we would make any changes.
Q. Can you talk about the pace of play, what you expect from that, and it seemed like it was a bit of a concern last year with some of the groups in the first couple of days.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I think I'm going to let Fred answer that.
FRED RIDLEY: Well, we have a pace of play policy, which asks our players to when they are in groups of threes, to play in four hours and 45 minutes and in groups of twos, four hours and five minutes.
A lot of this depends on how the first several groups do, because after that, it becomes -- the field just moves along at that pace. One of the things that we do every year is look at the prescribed pace of play and see if it needs any adjusting. We did do that last year. We cut off five minutes from the recommended time, and we'll take a look at that again this year, and there may be some opportunities to tighten that up a little bit.
But clearly, we want our players to move along as quickly as possible, and in good time. And again, a lot of it depends on the conditions. When it gets windy, this golf course plays very difficult, and that does have an impact on it. But we have great officials all around the golf course and we are watching that very closely.
Q. Have there ever been any penalties assessed for slow play?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I can't remember certainly in my tenure that that has been the case, but I can't speak before that.
Q. One of the questions that was on the Patron survey last year was about scoreboards on the course, and I wonder what reaction you got to just the general reaction, would you like to see video scoreboards, and after that, another question.
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Yeah, I actually got mad at Buzzy for putting that question on the survey. That snuck by me. We are not going to have video on the golf course.
Q. About the parking situation, was part of the idea of securing, I think you said 4,500 spots, did you have an issue, so to speak with, a number of homeowners in the area charging to park in the yards and that sort of thing; was that the reason behind?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: No, the reason behind it, it's very simple. We are opening a new practice facility last year. We lost some three or four thousand parks spaces as a consequence, so we had to go buy some adjacent land in order to create the new parking. That was the singular motivation, I think.
Q. Mr. Chairman, once the Tournament is over, are you having thoughts about having a conversation with Gary about joining Arnold on the first tee Thursday morning?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: I just found out about this being Gary's last Tournament myself two days ago. While we didn't talk about it last night, I'm sure we'll talk about it over the summer. I'm going to continue to talk to Jack Nicklaus about it. So we'll have a couple of conversations going on.
Q. Mr. Payne, you mentioned the practice facility. Can you talk about what we are going to find out there next year when we show up for the Tournament?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Sure. You will see a hitting area; the principle hitting area will be a little over twice as large as the current one. On the far end going towards the water tower, there's another tee being built in case we have a restart, so we'll be able to accommodate just about everybody. So that's pretty special, and that's been difficult for us in the past.
We are going to have a very much extended practice area for chipping, even including some greens that are up to 100 and 120 yards away. The design itself will allow the golfers to shape the ball visually. The tree lines will be constructed similar to the way they are on the course, so they will be able to visualize the draw or the cut necessary to attack certain holes.
And I think it's really going to be fantastic, and we are very much excited about it.
Q. As a quick follow, what are the plans for the existing facilities, the short game area and the current range?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: They are part of the look that we love, and they will remain the principle practice area for the members.
Q. Patron areas included at the new facility for observation stands check heck?
CHAIRMAN BILLY PAYNE: Yes, observation stands for the Tournament, yes.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance this morning.
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