WASHINGTON: Billy Payne retired Thursday as chairman of the Masters and Augusta National after an 11-year tenure that saw the club in Augusta, Georgia, admit its first women members.
Payne, 69, said that his resignation would become official on October 16, when the cub opens for a new season.
He will be succeeded by Fred Ridley, a former US Amateur golf champion and US Golf Association president who is chairman of the Masters competition committee.
Ridley will be Augusta National’s seventh chairman—and the first to have played in the Masters, in 1976, 1977 and 1978, missing the cut in each appearance.
Payne gained prominence on the international sporting scene when he led the bid that brought the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta. He was invited to join Augusta National in 1997, after concluding his work with the Atlanta Games.
He became chairman of the Masters three years later and succeeded Hootie Johnson as chairman of the club in 2006.
Payne brought changes to the tradition-bound Augusta National. A decade after Johnson defied critics and refused to open the exclusive club to women members, former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore joined Augusta National in 2012.
Payne also worked with the Royal & Ancient and other golf bodies to boost golf worldwide, helping create the Asia-Pacific Amateur tournament with the winner awarded a spot in the Masters.
Augusta National, the R&A and the USGA teamed for the Latin America Amateur to promote golf in that region, and Payne also worked with the USGA and the PGA of America to start the Drive, Chip and Putt youth competition with finals held at Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters.
“We have an obligation,” Payne gold ESPN in 2015 when discussing the club’s youth initiatives.
“When you give opportunity to these kids, to me it has a better, long-term capability of really getting them committed to the game. We have the time, we have the resources and we believe it to be completely consistent with what our founders believe.”
Payne also oversaw significant land acquisitions by the club, which allowed for increased hospitality areas and spectator viewing of the Masters.
“The privilege I experienced serving as Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters was far greater than I could have ever imagined,” Payne said in a statement.
“Just as nothing can prepare you for the unique responsibilities and important decisions that come with this position, it is equally impossible to anticipate the many joys and, most importantly, the wonderful friendships that are the ultimate reward of service.
“This honor, however, is too great for one person to claim as their own for too long a period of time. I retire knowing it is simply the right thing to do — and at the right moment — to open the door and invite someone new to be called upon to lead, bring forth new ideas and craft a new vision that will honor our Founders and serve the game of golf for many years to come.”