Augusta National chairman addresses property changes

Though Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne said there have been no material changes to the golf course this year, more adjustments to the property are underway and under consideration.

This year’s tournament is the first since the realignment of Berckmans Road. When asked about other long-term plans, Payne said he could speak only generally. He said that with Old Berckmans Road no longer hindering the fourth and fifth holes, there are options that didn’t previously exist.

Payne also said that while Augusta National is studying the par-5 13th hole, which could be an expansion candidate, there has been no decision about any changes.

Graphic: Options for altering No. 13

“As we do every year, and historically forever, we are always looking at options for numerous of our holes. We create plans looking into the future, when we believe that the shot value of certain second shots, principally, has been impacted by how far the ball is now traveling,” Payne said.

Graphic: A roadmap for expansion

Payne thanked Augusta and those involved in the Berckmans Road realignment. He said the Berckmans Road process took about 20 years.

“It addresses several needed traffic and circulation improvements on a year-round basis in our community, and it also begins the long-term transformation of the manner in which we utilize our property to conduct the Masters Tournament.

“Future improvements to this western side of our property will positively impact the parking experience of our patrons and create additional options for the enjoyment of our entire campus.”

Payne said there will be a new media facility next year, which will allow for helpful changes to the space occupied by the current building near the first hole and merchandise area.

“We discovered a couple of years ago, really, that for safety and other reasons, we need to widen the corridor,” he said. “We had an evacuation a few years ago, you will remember, and we had some issues about the safety of our patrons in the corridor.”

Payne said there are no plans to change the honorary starter tradition, which is seen annually Thursday morning. The Big Three will again participate in 2016, but Arnold Palmer will not hit a tee shot. The ceremony had gone on hiatus from 2003 to 2006 before Palmer hit his tee shot in 2007. Nicklaus joined Palmer in 2010, followed by Player taking part for the first time in 2012.

“We are looking forward to having Arnold not tomorrow, but for many, many years to come,” Payne said. “We will deal with that when the time comes.”


Augusta National's par-5 13th being considered for changes


On the Summer Olympics and the controversy over the Zika virus, water pollution and preparation: “It seems that every Olympic Games, including our games in Atlanta, there are a multitude of concerns as you approach the games about the state of preparedness, whether they can possibly be issues. All of the issues surface almost every time, but somehow countries, when their national pride is at stake, have a way of rising to the occasion, and I suspect that that’s what we will see in Brazil this summer.”

On his back surgery: “I had another very major surgery back in November, and I haven’t even started rehab yet, but I’m soon to do it. … It’s been difficult, but, you know, there’s so much to do here that I’ve been coming about the same frequency as I have forever. And it’s pretty tough just looking out your office and seeing the golf course and you can’t get on it, but I’m soon to be back.”

On keeping up with technology for viewer experience: “Different technology are emerging so quickly, we are fortunate to have the resources and the partners which allow us to be one of the first ones to see if it’s any good, and if it’s not, then we can afford for the investment not to have paid off.

“You’ll recall seven or eight years ago, we thought that next emerging technology was 3-D. It did not develop as quickly as we thought, and we either quit doing it or we reduced it rather dramatically. And so we are always willing to experiment, because we don’t claim to be smarter than the people who want to watch and enjoy our tournament. So however they want to do it, we’re going to be there.”

On addition of golf to the Olympics: “Having had some experience with the Olympics, it is the world’s largest platform to showcase sports, the largest and the best. When you start giving out awards which have the effect of creating immense national pride, I think we will see almost immediately with golf’s inclusion in the Olympics, multiple countries starting using resources and capital into the development of their own golf programs, because these countries want to win medals. So I think it will be a very, very positive long-term effect.”

On possibly inviting more players and having a larger field: “I think unlike certainly any other major but most other golf tournaments, what limits the number of participants here is the number of daylight hours. This early in the spring, we just simply don’t have the capability, even if we wanted to, to go far beyond where we are now.

“I think we do a good job of attracting international players to the Masters. We are very proud of that. But an overall change that would guarantee a larger field every year, I don’t think is something that we could possibly pursue.”