Billy Payne struggles to keep focus on the Masters

Billy Payne gave a full update on landscape, but not club membership issues. (AP photo)

Billy Payne gave a full update on landscape, but not club membership issues. (AP photo)

AUGUSTA — All will seem well in the world again Thursday morning.

There will be a ceremonial start with three of golf’s museum pieces — Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. That will be followed by the parade of the sport’s current stars – Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson, et. al. The story will again be the Masters, one of the world’s premier events played at one of its more treasured venues, Augusta National.

The Masters is different because the course is so often a bigger story than the players. The Masters is different because even when a marquee name isn’t sitting on top of the leaderboard, there is Sunday back-nine drama, whether it’s Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, shooting a final-round 69 to win a major, or Kenny Perry melting into a pool of tears, or Rory McIlroy self-immolating and hitting a tee shot to somebody’s back porch.

The Masters, however, also is different because of what occurred Wednesday, on the eve of the tournament.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne gave his annual State of Our Club address. He had hoped there would be no negative overtones. But as a former University of Georgia end, he should’ve done better job reading the opponent, or at least the foreshadowing.

A Tuesday night storm played havoc with Shangri-La. A mild winter caused most of the club’s azaleas to bloom too early. Mother Nature can’t become a club member, but she can still wreak havoc with the landscaping.

Payne unwittingly set himself up again for criticism of Augusta National’s exclusionary membership policies by referencing “our efforts to grow the game of golf,” and saying, “Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation.” Problem: His own club excludes 51 percent of the population from membership potential.

There already was a roomful of media members ready to pounce. Payne’s opening comments just turned the exercise into tee ball.

“All issues of memberships are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement,” he said.

Some years, the debate would end there. But the fact the new CEO of major tournament-sponsor IBM is a woman, Virginia “Ginny” Rometty, and previous IBM CEOs have been extended memberships has breathed new life into an issue that every green-jacket-wearing male hoped had gone comatose.

To fully understand how seriously Augusta National members take themselves, consider this: On news conference transcripts, all references to “The Club,” “Chairman” and “Membership” are capitalized. It follows that any suggestions that the club might be off-base about something leave members equally flummoxed and indignant.

Payne, like Hootie Johnson before him, always will deflect membership questions. The entertainment is in how he goes about it every year.

The issue was brought up 10 times.

It was like watching Payne trying to stomp out flames.

Question: Why not elaborate on why Rometty wouldn’t be considered? Answer: “No. 1, we don’t talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don’t talk about it when a named candidate is part of the question.” (A more obscure candidate, perhaps?)

Question: What would you say to your granddaughters? Answer: “Once again, though expressed quite artfully, I think that’s a question that deals with membership.”

Follow-up: It’s a kitchen-table personal question. Answer: “Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also personal.”

Question: What would you tell my daughters? Answer: “I don’t know your daughters.”

There were tense moments during a heated exchange with a British reporter (well, the Brit was heated, not Payne, who kept responding, “Thank you for your question.”).

There was an interesting moment when Payne was asked, “When this comes up again on the eve of the Masters, do you think it reflects negatively on the club or the tournament?” — and the club chairman wasn’t immediately dismissive.

“I think there’s a difference of opinion on that, and I don’t think I’ve formed an opinion on that,” he said.

This is one of the more anticipated Masters in years. As Graeme McDowell said: “I don’t remember a time when the top 20 players in the world were playing this good. My world ranking has kind of slipped a little this year, and I really haven’t done a huge amount wrong.”

Soon, the focus will be back on the tournament. Payne can stand back and watch it unfold.

Then he will have a year to prepare himself for next year’s news conference.

By Jeff Schultz

102 comments Add your comment

lanier

April 4th, 2012
7:23 pm

give it up Jeff go write for the National Enquirer. you are finished here

marty

April 4th, 2012
7:32 pm

I’ve a friend who worked on a BBC documentary at Augusta National 6 weeks ago. The subject was Jack Nicklaus and the director was female. When she mentioned that she needed to use the rest room the “handler” provided by the Club informed her that she would need to find facilities off site.
It’s nuts really

sundawg

April 4th, 2012
7:32 pm

The media misses the point that “Joe sports fan” doesn’t care about membership policy. Just as fans will still cheer Tiger, despite his digressions, this is the Masters. We want to see golf and get a glimpse of the course. There are too many issues in most people’s lives to worry about Augusta National and their membership. You have space to fill, have at it. But please don’t think this is a huge issue with the average golf fan.

Just One Thing

April 4th, 2012
7:33 pm

Sounds like the only ones struggling with this were the reporters. It was / is a non-story.
It is a private club and an “invitational” event. They are not requiring the media to attend or cover The Masters. Focus on the golf play.

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

April 4th, 2012
8:00 pm

Just the lib BS trying to get the gays, women, and illegals into Augusta! Give it a break sport.

blazer

April 4th, 2012
8:00 pm

Focus on the Masters!!! They are not having a membership drive anyway this week and it their policy

so let it rest.

Robert Respess

April 4th, 2012
8:01 pm

Sundawg (Go Gators) and Just One Thing are both spot on. Just cover the tournament. If you can’t do that, give it up and go home!

George W.

April 4th, 2012
8:06 pm

Try this one, Billy, “Segregation now, segregation forever!”

Snake Doc

April 4th, 2012
8:08 pm

Leave it up to a bed wetting member of the LSM to bring up membership and editorlize it on this blog.

Augusta can do what it wants with its memberships as the are a private club. Get it Schultzie? of course you don’t, as you want to lead the sheeple and lemmings to your way of thinking, thinking that liberalism and fairness and all things utopian are at peoples feet if they follow you and the socialist utopian way in to the sun. Dadgumn LSM liberals make me want to puke!

Atlanta Blue

April 4th, 2012
8:14 pm

Marty:

You BBC story is nothing more than urban legend. There are numerous women’s restrooms on the premises, and women regularly play the course and attend other functions as guests. While I think the male only membership policy is antique, let’s not make up stories to show the absurdity of the situation.

If the woman was denied use of the facilities, it had nothing to do with her gender, but more likely that she was “hired labor”, not a club guest.

Patriot

April 4th, 2012
8:15 pm

Marty, calling BS on your BBC friend. Augusta treats female guests with the utmost respect. Just ask the many ladies golf teams that are allowed access. I don’t think they make them run up he street to the Burger King to go potty… Perhaps she was an insufferable twit to her “handler”?

The Masters

April 4th, 2012
8:25 pm

Nothing more than a bunch redneck crackers to hangout at.

GOLF

April 4th, 2012
8:26 pm

Enter your comments here

Jeffro

April 4th, 2012
8:27 pm

Hey Schultz, so would it be okay if outsiders told you to dump your wife and start bedding down with a china-man? Why do u want to tell angc how to run their operation? What if we insisted the ajc hire actual columnists who can write thoughtful columns with effort instead of the whiny garbage you excrete?

George Carlin

April 4th, 2012
8:28 pm

The game of golf….a slow boring game…for slow boring people.

Ricky

April 4th, 2012
8:29 pm

Hopefully Billy will stay strong. There’s no need for women on the golf course along with other groups of people who insist on playing from the back tees even though they’re terrible. What’s next a muslim, illegal mexican, gay, transgender, native american, Trayvons family. The libs won’t quit even if they do give in to the women issue.

NRBQ

April 4th, 2012
8:31 pm

Marty – What’s nuts, really, is that you would swallow that pile of hog swill.

You think the many women who play the course all season long are peeing in the bushes?

Tiger Wood fan

April 4th, 2012
8:33 pm

If Tiger wins will they serve fried chicken, turnip greens and cornbread?

OldTimer

April 4th, 2012
8:34 pm

To understand this, you have to look at it from the standpoint of a Southern man.
They’ve already let the Negroes in.
That was a battle they fought and lost.
However, they believe they have got a good chance of keeping the women out.
We’re talking about Augusta here. Nothing has changed.

Larry

April 4th, 2012
8:37 pm

Jeff,

Funny how this bothers you so? We know, you’re on record as wanting a private men’s club adding a female member. But then, what would you expect from a leftist reporter from the left coast who majored in “liberal” arts?

But, aside of this spineless and wussy annual pout of your’s that both real men and women find a non-story, I have a question or two. Should a woman be allowed to play on the men’s tour, or should a man be allowed to play on the women’s tour should they apply?

As for me, Jeff, this man has two beautiful, intelligent and gifted daughters that value and appreciate certain rights and priviledges. And though undoubtedly you couldn’t comprehend this, they have no desire to join a man’s club when there are so many opportunities for them as women. They respect other’s rights and needs. In fact, what reporter is so compelled to have a woman hanging out in an all men’s club lockers and showers.

I liberal reporter, that’s what, the same filth that perpetuates the erroding of values in this country so they can get get their jollies from the deviation and out and out perversion.

So, Jeff, do you get tingles at the thought of a women hanging out with all males and just what may happen? Truly, Jeff, why is it so important that this happen for you and Martha Burke?

What would Bisher think, Jeff?

JB

April 4th, 2012
8:44 pm

Marty
I think you’ve been mislead. All those permanent restrooms you see all over the course are open any time the Club is open. Augusta might have done things differently in the past, but it certainly doesn’t discriminate against anyone now. They will have a female member and it may well be this year. Just don’t be surprised when it isn’t announced.

Larry

April 4th, 2012
8:46 pm

I just want to puke at the supporters of this article. Doubtless, there’s not a single one of you shilly-shallying, witless, imbecilic degenerates that have ever been a CEO or even leader of your boy scount camp. You, like the author, couldn’t remotely qualify or afford a membership and you’re the worst possible combination–perverse and jealous.

You appall me, disgust me, and never would I want my daughter to be around you or your offspring…thank God I have a choice, at least for now.

Beauvighn

April 4th, 2012
8:52 pm

This will be funny too. Next year Jeff, you and your prodding partner Doug Robertson will be politley asked not to return to these hallowed grounds. Ask the CBS reporter who referenced the bikini waxed greens how he enjoys the view from the outside.

Larry

April 4th, 2012
9:06 pm

Beauvighn,

And I’d life my rear off, but, I’m guessing the bright and savy Payne would see this as giving power to these wroms and he’ll once again ignore them openly, and laugh at them privately.

I’m going get off this blog before I say something I’d regret, but I want to leave all good men and women who frequent here with a question:

Waht does it say about a reporter who has written two straight articles about the the greatest of sleeze bags in Woods, followed by full support of the highly liberal and most masculine National Organization of “Women”?

Chew on this for a moment, all good men of honor, courage, integrity and the highest of standards…you know, the kind of man that actually admires and values their girlfriends, wives, and daughters to act like ladies!

Dave

April 4th, 2012
9:08 pm

It’s one of those things where you say “you have every legal right to do what you are doing but have you really thought it through?” The answer is no answer, meaning we have thought it through as much as our last century membership is capable of dealing with an issue that the rest of the country handled long ago and has decided to stonewall it for yet another year. Why? Who knows, while mostly no bad comes out of it (other than some female well to do folks don’t get to network as well as they might), there’s certainly no good will coming to all the companies that are associated with the Club (want to get that right for the old boys).

The Club is a beautiful place with a great tradition that needs to be tweaked just a little bit. Come on Billy, work with the rest of us just a little bit.

Larry

April 4th, 2012
9:08 pm

laugh, not “life:” worms, not “wroms.”

Tough typing left handed when you’re right handed and recovering from right shoulder surgery.

Fan

April 4th, 2012
9:17 pm

Jeff the media, you, are trying to gin up this story cause u r weak with other narratives. Does radiant6 track a lot of organic social conversation on this? Didn’t think so. With all that’s broken and wrong in this world, this better rank near the bottom. A loyal fan and reader…

markmjtx

April 4th, 2012
9:19 pm

Some Thoughts:
You say Payne did not handle this well, your brethren in the media have not either.
I notice there are no woman columnists here on the sports page for the AJC.
I live in Augusta and I know it is not Atlanta and you are running out of things to talk about.
I am glad you are here. Enjoy yourself.
I will even be happier when most of you leave on Sunday night.

rivercard

April 4th, 2012
9:23 pm

I suggest the indignant press give up their weekend of free entertainment and perks to boycott this travesty..

Well maybe it’s not such a big deal after all, huh?

Don Draper

April 4th, 2012
9:24 pm

Dreadful, tired, and predictable hackery.

markmjtx

April 4th, 2012
9:31 pm

One more thought:
You would also think that there would be more said about Payne’s comments in regard to Furman Bisher today.

PMC

April 4th, 2012
9:32 pm

So what is it going to earn you Golf writers if Augusta National were to have a female member?

I don’t get why you care Jeff? Why is this important to you?

This is not sufferage, and no one is oppressed.

PMC

April 4th, 2012
9:38 pm

It may be that Rometty was up for membership and now you have all ruined it for her by bringing it up.

PMC

April 4th, 2012
9:39 pm

The chairman almost certainly has no say in membership likely on purpose.

markmjtx

April 4th, 2012
9:47 pm

Carroll Rogers is listed as a sports writer on her Facebook page and she is very good. But why do they always post her reports under Dave O’ Brien’s photo? That is another thing to think about.
Start working on that Jeff.

David

April 4th, 2012
9:59 pm

I’m very surprised that you wrote 2 columns in one week on a subject that no one is talking about.

jim

April 4th, 2012
10:08 pm

does she play golf

David Granger

April 4th, 2012
10:27 pm

Billy Payne, Chairman of the Augusta National, has certainly proven that he is not afraid to change some of the club’s long-time traditions. He’s the one who asked some of the former champions not to play after they had gotten too old to be competitive, and he’s also the one who eliminated the automatic invitation for winning a PGA event. And I certainly agree that Ms. Rometty would be a very worthy candidate for membership.

Martha Burk needs to keep her mouth shut about it, though. She has made it appear that…if the Augusta National DOES extend a membership invitation to Ms. Rometty…then she (Burk) will claim that she somehow “won the battle” and forced the club to do so. And that’s absolutely the worst thing that could have been done. No organization wants to be seen as having been FORCED to do something, whether it’s true or not. I wonder if Ms. Burk really wants to see a female member, or if she’s more interested in having the topic to argue about.

And just for the record: Over one-third of the groups that made up the National Council of Women’s Organizations…that Ms. Burk was Chairwoman of back when she led her protest…do not allow men to join. I guess some discriminatory practices are a little “more equal” than others…and that feminist “righteous indignation” only goes in one direction.

Buford H. Pusser

April 4th, 2012
10:52 pm

Jeff,

You threw down the gauntlet, where is your response to your challengers? Unusual for you. Or are you hiding behind the safety and security of your supposed ideals, knowing you will receive the support of the liberal media?

The Sheriff has spoken.

Paul in NH

April 4th, 2012
10:58 pm

Billy Payne reminds me of any number of Presidential Press Secretaries over the last 30 years (across both parties). He is a consummate professional who is catching flak for the people he repesents – in this case a bunch of old, rich white guys.
Then again, this is a club that not so long ago had a chairman with strong racist tendencies.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/sports/golf/from-a-symbol-of-segregation-to-a-victim-of-golfs-success.html
“As long as I’m alive,” said Clifford Roberts, one of the club’s founders in 1933 and a longtime Masters chairman, “all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

Trapper John

April 4th, 2012
11:01 pm

This is tiresome, and over wrought, and out worn. For the love of God — let it go.

UGABugKiller

April 4th, 2012
11:01 pm

Jeff,

I have to ask, because you make such a big stink about the Constitutionally PROTECTED rights of a PRIVATE CLUB to choose it’s own members…

… what are your feelings about a PRIVATE women’s college that excludes qualified males from higher learning opportunities?

… what are your feelings about an institution like the Girl Scouts that exclude males from the joys of selling delicious cookies?

The Constitution of the United States is NOT a this or that kind of a thing where you get to pick and choose… you either support it, or you don’t.

I will ALWAYS support the rights of women and minorities to participate in public endeavors, like NCAA athletics, PUBLIC golf courses and clubs, PUBLIC gatherings of any kind.

But for you and members of the press to continue to make a mockery of the CONSTITUTION while puffing out your chests, acting like you have some moral high ground, well, unless you plan on verbally acosting the presidet of Agnes Scott College tomorrow for these same reasons you do so to Mr. Payne, then you betray your true motivations: completely unaltruistic ideological bias.

And that’s just the truth.

kaput

April 4th, 2012
11:18 pm

This story is like catnip, reporters can’t stay away from it.

I’m as liberal of a guy as you will ever find, and I dearly hope the Augusta sticks to its guns and, regardless of media pressures, does what its members want.

It’s special the way it is, leave it alone.

LAC

April 4th, 2012
11:26 pm

Ready for this GREAT event, hope the rain stays away.

Jeff, Just a couple questions, notes, NOT Masters related, sorry.

Why NO hockey coverage this year in the paper ? Real shocked that the Glad’s are NEVER mentioned, really sad.

Would like to see at the very least “some” coverage.

Also A couple weeks ago, about 700-800 Thrasher fans ventured to Nashville.

The shocked was dozens of Thrasher jersey’s were thrown on the ice, at the former Thrasher bench and penalty box, the Nashville announcers were STUNNED. The STUPID tsn ones just laughed and were happy to see it, as “There will never be NHL hockey in “THAT” city ever again.

I would like to see at the very very least some hockey topic before springs takes over !!

Miss Rawhide and Brenden’s comments were ALWAYS GREAT !!!

BTW, another season with NO playoffs again for the Thrashers !!! Serves that Minor League city,
with That Minor League arena and Minor League fans RIGHT !!!!!

Lastly asg STILL LIES & SUCKS !!!

Thanks Jeff, Hope the hockey fans out there see at least ONE hockey artical soon, would be great to see to old gang and get somewhat of a pulse of hockey in Atlanta !

Eldon

April 4th, 2012
11:37 pm

Your reference to Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player as museum pieces is disrespectful to them, the game of golf, and true fans. I expect this kind of drivel from an ungrateful, burned-out writer and it disappoints me to discover you to be such at the journalist level of the AJC. Shame on you and the AJC (for giving you privileged assignments like Augusta)!

Eleanor

April 4th, 2012
11:56 pm

@ Granger
re: Your 10:27

I remember reading that fact about the NCWO back when the big protest was going on, and wondered why the story didn’t get more play. I guess it didn’t fit the viewpoint of a lot of the media, and so it was not promoted more. I did get a chuckle when one reporter asked Martha Burke a question about why so many NCWO organizations didn’t let men join. I think the question caught her by surprise, and I don’t think she had realized that before being asked. About all she could come up with was that…because women had been discriminated against but men hadn’t…it was just different, somehow.

Fan

April 4th, 2012
11:59 pm

Look b a man and show up after combative drivel.

doc

April 5th, 2012
12:01 am

the problem is the hypocrisy of their positions and their attempts to put their stamp on a game while diminishing it in the same breath to over one half of the world because of ole time petty gender issues. nice article here:

http://sports.yahoo.com/golf/pga/news;_ylt=AhYOOA_em5zbYbF87BMpeuU5nYcB?slug=dw-wetzel_billy_payne_augusta_masters_040412

no doubt, it is their right, just as it is the worlds right, ahem, and mine, to say how hypocritical they are. best to not EVER say anything but their egos still want them to be influential and relevant. that will come when they move into the western civilization’s 21st century.

doc

April 5th, 2012
12:06 am

a little tid bit from the article alluded to:

“Later Payne was asked about what fathers should tell their daughters about not having a shot at membership here and he declined to offer advice. There really wasn’t much Payne would say.

The problem with Payne’s and Augusta’s silence is their willingness – even eagerness – to speak out on so many other issues. The chairman offers opinions on all sorts of subjects and openly discusses lots of opinions.

Payne is the same guy who, without provocation, ripped Tiger Woods to shreds two years ago for his off-course behavior that had absolutely nothing to do with the business of Augusta National or the Masters.

“It’s not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here,” Payne said in 2010. “It is the fact he disappointed all of us and, more importantly, our kids and grandkids.

“As he ascended in our rankings of the world’s great golfers, he became an example to our kids,” Payne continued. “But as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility.”

Augusta National wants to do things its way. No women. And it has the right to do it.

The club and its chairman sure would be better served, though, if they left it at that, but neither do. They attack the shortcomings of individual players, continue to pump up their role as grand ambassadors of the sport and the moral conscious of the game.

With fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility …

These are Payne’s words, and who can argue with the chairman of a club of substantial fame and fortune?

This isn’t really a civil rights issue at this point, but rather a prolonged game of public relations. In that regard, Billy Payne didn’t do so well Wednesday.

Of course, in the end, he still controls the rulebook and the membership rolls. And that isn’t changing because of some press conference.”

so, to repeat once again, his wise words to remember:

“remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility.”

simple equation, hard to follow, no matter how much money and power you have isnt it?

Sid

April 5th, 2012
2:24 am

Oh my god, IBM has a woman at the helm. Better get another sponsor. Is Gloria Allred here again? I didn’t see Billy Payne struggle to keep the focus on the Masters. He politely deflected questions that reporters continued to ask after they had already been answered.

“There were tense moments during a heated exchange with a British reporter (well, the Brit was heated, not Payne, who kept responding, “Thank you for your question.”).”
What, do you hope people will only half read and spread misinformation that Payne was heated, or did you just begin to write some fiction and decide you might want to tell the truth??

“All issues of memberships are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members” ………………..and that’s just the way it is. Maybe the girls just need to buy a nursery and start from scratch.