One of the most influential people in the game of golf has retired from his post at the home of the Masters. On Tuesday, Billy Payne announced that he will be stepping down as chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, handing the reigns over to Fred Ridley, the current competition committee chairman.
Payne leaves behind a lasting legacy that includes welcoming the first female members to the prestigious club, embarking on growing the game initiatives like the introduction of the annual Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship and embracing digital technology to promote one of the greatest sporting events in the world.
Payne, 69, will retire from the position when Augusta National opens its club season Oct. 16, and he will be replaced by Fred S. Ridley. Payne will assume the title of chairman emeritus, the club said in a news release Wednesday.
Payne served 11 years as chairman and said the time was right for the 65-year-old Ridley to take over the club and tournament.
“I think he’ll be, as I tried to be, another great custodian,” Payne said. “I think all chairmen after our first two founders are custodians of their dreams and aspirations. We try to maintain it and if we can make it a little better. He’s going to do that beautifully.”
Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur winner, resides in Tampa and is the seventh chairman in the club and tournament’s history. He is the first chairman to have played in the Masters: he played three consecutive years, 1976-78, and missed the cut each time.
— Augusta Chronicle (@AUG_Chronicle) August 23, 2017
Payne is stepping down after several notable achievements, including the admission of the club’s first female members in 2012. Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were invited to join nearly a decade after the club’s membership practices were criticized by a national women’s organization.
With golf struggling to attract new players because of time and money, Payne joined forces with golf’s governing bodies to create the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. The annual event for children ages 7-15 attracts thousands of youngsters who strive to reach the finals held at Augusta National on the eve of the Masters.
Payne and the game’s ruling bodies also created two new amateur tournaments, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and Latin America Amateur. He dangled the ultimate carrot – a Masters berth – to give each tournament an immediate boost.
“The grow the game initiatives have become increasingly important,” Payne said. “It’s always been a part of the culture of Augusta. I’ve said several times, the big difference now is we have more resources to invest. To some, it seems we have a larger presence. We are trying to meet what we believe to be our obligation, and do it rather aggressively.”
Here it is: The statement today from Augusta National, announcing Billy Payne’s retirement. pic.twitter.com/3ctoIik8yp
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) August 23, 2017
Payne vastly increased the tournament’s digital presence, bringing the latest in television technology to the broadcasts. He also expanded content available on the tournament Website with live video channels and a tracking feature that enabled patrons to follow the shots of each player in the tournament.
“Billy’s an unusual person in that he’s really good at the 50,000-foot picture, but he’s also really good at the detail,” one club member said. “Most people are one or the other, but he’s like both.”
The club member also marveled at Payne’s ability to bring the leading golf organizations together for a common good.
“Billy was really the first chairman to embrace that the Masters is the Mona Lisa of sports,” he said. “We have a responsibility to the game, how are we going to grow the game? There was a lot more inclusion. Before it might have been more isolated.”
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