Masters feels growing Payne as Augusta looks to future

Wed Apr 8, 2015 6:57pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Once resistant to opening club doors to blacks and women, Augusta National, the manicured and staid home of the Masters, has often embraced change as enthusiastically as most Americans welcome higher taxes.

But in recent years, the club that did not admit its first woman member until 2012 has displayed progressive vision and long-range planning as it focuses its considerable resources and efforts on growing the game around the world and expanding the club's boundaries at home.

Augusta National has helped develop and promote the Asia-Pacific and Latin America Amateur Championships, with the winners earning a spot in the year's first major.

A Drive, Chip and Putt competition designed to bring more children into the sport was staged at Augusta last weekend and the winners received their trophies from past Masters champions, while the club has earmarked a reported $40 million to purchase nearly 100 homes as part of elaborate expansion plans.

"We have been working very hard, trying to do our best to positively address the mandate of continuous improvement established by beloved co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts," Augusta chairman Billy Payne told reporters during his annual press conference on Wednesday.

"Doing the best we can do, now includes a growing emphasis on our efforts to help others grow the game."

Payne, who oversaw the running of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, took over from Hootie Johnson as club chairman in 2006.

He has shepherded Augusta National into a new era, welcoming Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as the first women members, as well as developing a social media and digital media presence, while also expanding the Masters global television coverage.   Continued...

Apr 8, 2015; Augusta, GA, USA; Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne departs from a press conference during a practice round in preparation for the 2015 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports