Golf

‘Not that much’ has changed at Augusta

Arnold Palmer's wife, Kathleen, looks on as Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne places Palmer's green jacket on his chair at the first tee during the honorary start of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Thursday, April 6, 2017.
Arnold Palmer's wife, Kathleen, looks on as Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne places Palmer's green jacket on his chair at the first tee during the honorary start of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Thursday, April 6, 2017. AP

Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Billy Payne was asked Wednesday, “Are you comfortable that someone (Donald Trump) so controversial is so associated with the game that you love and represent?”

Politics popped up in the new press building as a zit would appear on prom night. His reply changed the subject back to golf, just where it should be.

In her subsequent USA Today article Christine Brennan wrote, “Payne could muster none of the criticism he heaped on Tiger (Woods),” referring to Payne’s 2010 comments about Tiger’s well-documented problems. Her apparent dissatisfaction with Payne’s comments were reflected in her closing remark, “Such is life at the golf club that has changed a bit, but not that much.”

Augusta National and the Masters have changed dramatically in some respects but some traditions remain as constant as the admiration fans have for the hallowed grounds and revered tournament. The golf course has changed, but not that much. Daniel Wexler wrote in 2011 that it “retains roughly 90 percent of its original routing.”

Whether the course was its 1933 length of almost 6,700 yards or its current 7,400-plus yards, where metal and composite drivers conduct a symphony of birdies and eagles, it has not changed that much. Presidents playing golf at ANGC and the Eisenhower desk, we hope, will be the extent of the political atmosphere.

No tweets. No phones. Payne was asked about the prohibition on cell phones. Can you explain why you’re so adamant on that?

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate, and the noise is an irritation to not only players, the dialing, the conversation, it’s a distraction and that’s the way we’ve chosen to deal with it,” he said.

The Eisenhower Pine was replaced, a sign that change is inevitable, but Rae’s Creek, Ike’s Pond, the Hogan Bridge and the Crow’s Nest remind golf fans that The Masters and ANGC respect tradition and admire the game like no other. Politics during the tournament, not that much.

Yes, the club, the course and the tournament have changed a bit, but the dedication to perfection, not that much. As Payne so eloquently put it, “and while we don’t claim to always be right, or always be the best, we do claim to make the most sincere and significant effort possible to host one of the world’s preeminent sporting events.”

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