Augusta, Ga. — Billy Payne ruled more with an open mind than an iron fist.
As the sixth chairman of Augusta National Golf Club — and the first with no direct link to co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts — he held fast to the heritage and traditions of the club, while looking beyond Magnolia Lane at how the Masters could wield influence around the world for more than one week of the year.
Women joined Augusta National for the first time. Juniors were allowed to attend the Masters for free with an adult. Amateurs from the Asia Pacific region and throughout Latin America could dream about competing for a green jacket.
Payne announced Wednesday he is retiring after 11 years of change that made the Augusta logo more powerful than ever.
“There are two people that matter here — Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones,” Payne said. “The rest of us are custodians. We do our best to first embrace, and thereafter hopefully to advance their philosophies for this club and for the game of golf — their obsession for detail, their passion to be the best. And I’ve done that now for a considerable number of years.”
He officially retires on Oct. 16 when the club, which is closed during the summer, 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.
“If he’s not better than me, then I failed,” Payne said of Ridley. “And I fully expect him to be. I’ve seen his passion and his love for our club. I know the way the members respect him, and in many cases, love him. He is going to be a natural fit. And he will lead us in a different way because everybody is different.This is a great move for Augusta National.”
Payne stays on as chairman emeritus. Ridley, 65, was not made available for comment. The club said he would not speak about the role until he took over in October.
Augusta National speaks with one voice, and in that respect, Payne, 69, was no different from the other chairmen. With his Southern, homespun style, the Georgia native was more about collaboration than calling all the shots.
Payne ends a remarkable career marked by two sporting events in which he had little previous experience.
He had never been to the Olympics when Payne, a little-known real estate lawyer, led a long-shot bid to bring the Summer Games to Atlanta in 1996. He relied heavily on corporate support, and he showed early signs of his commitment to diversity and inclusion. He chose two women among the first five volunteers he selected for the Atlanta organizing committee.
Payne did not take up golf until his adult years. He was invited to join Augusta National in 1997, a year after he concluded his work with the Atlanta Games. Nine years later, Hootie Johnson selected him as his successor as chairman.
“I committed my entire life to both at those respective times,” he said of his work on the Olympics and at Augusta National.
Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore became the first women to join Augusta National in 2012.
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.
“Forget about the fringe things,” former USGA executive director David Fay said. “He took the opportunity to make sure that Augusta National was not just one of the four majors, but that it had a role at the table in decision-making for golf.”
Ridley first met Roberts when he played the Masters in 1976 as the U.S. Amateur champion. Like Payne, his background is in real estate law. Payne recalls that when he began his tenure as chairman, his predecessor told him the most important job he faced was finding his own successor.
Ridley, 65, from Tampa, Florida, is the last U.S. Amateur champion who never turned pro. He played in the 1977 Walker Cup, was twice a Walker Cup captain, served on the USGA executive committee for 11 years and was president of the USGA in 2004 and 2005.
Ridley is the first chairman to have played in the Masters, missing the cut all three times. He also played in the U.S. Open and British Open.
The Northern Trust
Site: Glen Oaks Club (7,346 yards, par 70), Old Westbury, N.Y.
Purse: $8.75 million (First prize: $1,575,000)
TV: Today-Friday, 2-6 p.m. (GC); Saturday, 1-2:30 p.m. (GC); 3-6 p.m. (CBS); Sunday, noon-1:30 p.m. (GC), 2-6 p.m. (CBS)
Defending champion: Patrick Reed
Canadian Pacific Women’s Open
Site: Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club (6,419 yards, par 71), Ottawa, Ontario
Purse: $2.25 million (First prize: $337,500)
TV: Today-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (GC); Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m. (GC)
Defending champion: Ariya Jutanugarn
Site: TPC Snoqualmie Ridge (7,172 yards, par 72),
Purse: $2.1 million (First prize: $315,000)
TV: Friday-Sunday, 6-8 p.m. (GC)
Defending champion: Bernhard Langer