Ridley begins chairmanship of Augusta National, Masters

The newest chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament is already making changes.

Fred Ridley began his tenure today, but by last week he had already decorated the office occupied by former chairman Billy Payne with his own photos and mementos.

Don’t expect much else to change.

Ridley takes over the high-profile position on the heels of Payne, who dramatically changed Augusta National’s landscape with an aggressive building program that also saw the club expand its boundaries.

Payne didn’t do much to the course after his predecessor, Hootie Johnson, oversaw major course renovations in 2002 and 2006. Ridley said no immediate changes are planned.

“We’re always making improvements, always looking at opportunities to do that, but we have not made any decisions in regards to the future right now,” Ridley said last week in an interview with The Augusta Chronicle.

Instead, Ridley will focus on completing the final projects that started under Payne and will be ready in time for the 2018 Masters: a new merchandise and concession area along the main patron corridor, and a new administration building.

Ridley, 65, is a former U.S. Amateur champion and past president of the U.S. Golf Association. It was announced in late August that he would succeed Payne as the seventh chairman in the club and tournament’s history.

The Florida native resides in Tampa and is the first chairman to have played in the Masters: he played three consecutive years, 1976-78, and missed the cut each time. Ridley is the last U.S. Amateur champion to not turn professional.

Ridley has an appreciation for Augusta National and Masters co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. He said Jones was an early role model.

“I kind of had an inkling when I was a young guy as a teenager that I probably was not going to be a golf professional,” Ridley said. “So I was interested in Jones, one of the greatest players of all time and certainly the greatest amateur of all time. I think what struck me even more than his amazing playing record was the way he lived his life and the integrity, character and sportsmanship associated with his persona.”

Ridley also had the opportunity to meet Roberts when he played in the 1976 Masters, the last year Roberts served as chairman.

Like Roberts, Ridley has business acumen. He is currently a partner and national chair of the real estate practice for international law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.

Ridley has extensive knowledge of the competitive side of the game. In addition to his fine playing record — he competed in 10 U.S. Amateurs and was a member of the 1976 U.S. World Amateur Team and the 1977 U.S. Walker Cup squad — Ridley served as chairman of the tournament’s Competition Committee from 2007-17.

“I’m fortunate in one respect as in my role as competition committee chair I was involved with a lot of issues, certainly what I would call inside the ropes, I was exposed to pretty much everything relating to the Masters Tournament,” he said.

From an administrative standpoint, Ridley said he learned valuable lessons from Payne and called him a “great mentor.”

“There’s a lot of physical evidence of what he’s accomplished in his tenure here,” Ridley said. “He has expanded our campus in a way you couldn’t imagine when he took over.”

Like Payne did in the summer before he took over as chairman, Ridley has done extensive homework to prepare.

“During the last few weeks I spent a fair amount of time with Billy and (executive director) Will Jones and other senior staff here,” Ridley said. “It’s been a pretty intense preparation for getting ready to do this. And I’ve appreciated that.”

Payne accomplished plenty in his tenure, including the admission of female members, but left the next tweaking of the course for the new chairman.

When Ridley decides the time is right to make changes to Augusta National, he will have two areas that now have multiple options thanks to recent moves. Augusta National acquired land over the summer from neighboring Augusta Country Club near the section of holes Nos. 11, 12 and 13 known as Amen Corner, and the realignment of Berckmans Road also gives access to make changes at holes Nos. 4 and 5.

“That is something I do know a little bit about,” Ridley said of course changes. “The process is we take a hard look at the golf course every year.”

Related story:

Michaux: New chairman has the knowledge, power to change Augusta National layout

PREVIOUS CHAIRMEN AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB

CLIFFORD ROBERTS (1931-76): He was the brains behind most of what is the Masters Tournament today. He joined with golfer Bobby Jones to organize the club and start the invitational tournament. Innovations included mounds for spectators to view play and bringing television to the tournament in 1956. Roberts died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the grounds of Augusta National in 1977.

BILL LANE (1977-80): He served a very short period of time as chairman. Lane succeeded Roberts in 1977 but soon became ill and was hospitalized. Notable occurrences during his tenure were the Par-3 Course being converted to bentgrass in preparation for installation on the main course and the patron badge waiting list being closed in 1978. Hord Hardin became acting chairman in 1979, and Lane died in 1980.

HORD HARDIN (1980-91): Changes during his tenure included the acceptance of Ron Townsend, the club’s first black member, in 1990; the change from bermuda to slick bentgrass greens in 1981; allowing non-Augusta National caddies to work the Masters beginning in 1983; and the reinstatement of honorary starters, featuring Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, in 1981. He died in 1996.

JACK STEPHENS (1991-98): Under his watch, limitations on practice-round tickets were instituted and an agreement was reached to use Augusta National as the venue for golf in the 1996 Olympic Games. The plan was later rejected by the IOC when Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell was critical of the lack of minorities on the Augusta National membership roll. He died in 2005.

HOOTIE JOHNSON (1998-2006): To combat advances in technology, he oversaw several changes to the golf course that stretched the layout to 7,445 yards. He also made headlines for refusing to give in to activist Martha Burk, who urged the club to admit women as members. Johnson also made changes to the qualification system for the Masters and instituted 18-hole television coverage of the tournament. He died in July.

BILLY PAYNE (2006-2017): He welcomed the first female members at Augusta National Golf Club, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, in 2012. He sought new ways to grow golf and did so by joining forces with golf’s governing bodies to create the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for children ages 7-15. Under his watch, Augusta National and the game’s ruling bodies also created two new amateur tournaments, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and Latin America Amateur.

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