News & ToursApril 9, 2008

Verdi: Billy Payne is Quite a Leader

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Is it any wonder why things get done so efficiently, so often, so peacefully at the Masters? I think not, not after listening to Chairman Billy Payne's state-of-the-art press conference Wednesday morning.

It is an annual affair, and unlike so many gatherings in other sports, this one rarely takes on a contentious tone. One reason for that is, if there's something that needs to be fixed at the Masters, it just seems to happen. I'm sure there are committees to which Payne must report, but at an intensely private institution with a rich history and deep pockets, it's probably infinitely easier to create more room for patrons to leave their cars. You just buy up some land near Augusta National GC and designate it as a parking lot.

No task seems too large or too small for Payne and his fellow green jackets, which is not to suggest that the Masters and the club don't have "issues." There is a new policy this year that allows children ages 8 to 16 to enter free when accompanied by an accredited patron. This is a way for boys and girls to see golf at its finest, according to Payne, and also to watch how spectators are supposed to behave at a golf tournament.

Payne is mighty proud of this concept at an institution that is perceived as being quite exclusionary. And that begat a question from the audience: If a 10-year-old girl comes through the gates Thursday, falls in love with the place and decides she would like to join someday, how do you tell her she can't? Payne's reply: There's the tournament and then there's the club, and he's not going to discuss how fellow members wish to operate the other 51 weeks every year. He'll deal with Masters week.

He takes the next question with a smile. If Billy Payne were baseball commissioner, I don't think it would take him 10 years to figure out why all those home runs were being hit 10 years ago. Just a hunch, but I think he would have caught on sooner.

-- Bob Verdi

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