Women are now welcome to compete at Augusta National Golf Club.
Fred Ridley, the new chairman of the club and the Masters Tournament, announced Wednesday the establishment of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. The event will bring the top 72 women’s amateur players in the world to Augusta beginning next year.
“We are always looking for new ways to benefit and impact the game,” said Ridley, who made the announcement during his first "State of the Masters" address. “We start with the premise and reality that we are very blessed to have the resources to do that. I met with our senior staff in October and said I thought this was the right time to do this, right time for the women’s game. I wanted to do this and I wanted to do it here.”
The final round of the tournament will be held at Augusta National the Saturday before the Masters, Ridley said. The first 36 holes will be held at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club.
After a cut to the low 30 scores at Champions Retreat, the final round will take place the day before the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, marking the latest initiative by Augusta National to use its home to grow the game of golf.
“I will tell you the members and staff at Champions Retreat are honored to be partnering with Augusta National and Chairman Fred Ridley,” Champions Retreat owner Bill Forrest said.
The event is expected to be televised globally, Ridley said, and tickets will be made available through a lottery process. The random selection process will be announced at a later date.
Augusta National admitted its first women's members in 2012, but the club doesn't have separate tees for women. A club spokesman said the regular member tees will be used for the women's event, and that the yardage will be consistent with other top women's amateur events.
Augusta National measures 6,365 yards from where its members play. Last year's U.S. Women's Amateur was played at San Diego Country Club, which measured 6,423 yards.
The winner of the women’s amateur championship will receive a "very distinctive" award, Ridley said. If the winner remains an amateur, she will receive an invitation to the next five championships; the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open; the 2019 Women’s British Open; and any USGA, R&A and PGA of America amateur championships for which she is eligible for one year.
The women’s amateur championship is the latest effort by Augusta National to inspire participation in the game. Other current events supported by the Masters are the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship; the Latin America Amateur Championship; and the Drive, Chip and Putt.
Former LPGA star Annika Sorenstam, who attended the news conference, applauded the announcement.
“I think this is fantastic for women’s golf,” she said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Before he became chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, Billy Payne, Ridley’s predecessor, had visions of bringing golf back to the Olympics. He wanted Augusta National as the venue for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and Chairman Jack Stephens agreed. The Atlanta City Council balked at the idea, which would have let men and women compete, and golf didn’t return to the Olympics until 2016.
Ridley said the legacy left by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts is to always try to contribute meaningfully to the game of golf, something Augusta National continues to work toward with these initiatives.
“I read a lot in the past few months about things our founders said about really what our role and obligation was in the game of golf, and it’s been a consistent theme and part of our culture that we have an obligation to give back to the game,” Ridley said.
The news was well received Wednesday afternoon at the course.
Emily Caserta, a 9-year-old from Fairfield, Conn., who began playing golf at age 4, said she was inspired.
"It's good because it's always like a men's tournament and now they're switching it up," she said as she watched players at the practice range.
Jackie Romer, 15, held a big smile after hearing of the club's plans.
"I think it's good," the Springfield, Ill., resident and three-year golfer said. "If I do come back (to the Masters), that is something I would need to watch."
Staff Writer Nefeteria Brewster contributed to this article.