Billy Payne is retiring as chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, ending 11 years of substantial change that included the club having its first female members and playing a leading role in growing the game around the world.
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Payne officially retires on Oct. 16 when the club opens for a new season.
Payne will be succeeded by Fred Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion and USGA president who is chairman of the Masters competition committee. Ridley will be the seventh chairman, and the first to have played in the Masters.
Payne will stay on as chairman emeritus.
He ends a remarkable career marked by two sporting events in which he had little previous experience. Payne, 69, had never been to the Olympics when he led a long-shot bid to bring the Summer Games to Atlanta in 1996, relying heavily on corporate support and showing early signs of his feelings for diversity and inclusion with whom he selected to serve on the Atlanta organizing committee. Two of the first five were women.
Payne, who did not take up golf until his adult years, was invited to join Augusta National in 1997, a year after he concluded his work with the Atlanta Games. He became media chairman of the Masters three years later, and he was Hootie Johnson’s choice to succeed him as chairman in 2006.
He spent 11 years blending his ideas for progress with the traditions of a club that dates to 1931. As chairman, he ruled more with an open mind than an iron fist. He spoke openly about the support of his staff, and of the members.
Ten years after Johnson stubbornly stood his ground under pressure to have female members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore joined Augusta National in 2012.
That was but a small part of Payne’s influence over the club and that Masters.
Wanting to expand the reach of golf, he worked with the R&A to start the Asia-Pacific Amateur, awarding the winner a spot in the Masters. The idea was to create heroes in an emerging market. The second winner was Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who now is No. 2 in the world. The USGA and R&A joined with Augusta National’s next venture, the Latin America Amateur.
Payne also brought in the USGA and PGA of America to start the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, which attracts children all over the country to compete in golf skills, with the finals held at Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters.
Payne considers those grow-the-game initiatives and enhancing the experience and camaraderie for club members the two achievements that bring him the most pride.