His fellow members should be proud of the progressive steps he has taken since replacing the embattled Hootie Johnson as Masters chairman.
This week Augusta National announced two steps in an ongoing multi-year, multifaceted program that is aimed at expanding, enhancing and building the Masters brand worldwide and to promote the game of golf.
If this weeks moves are any indication, the Masters is poised to raise its game from being he most revered and respected golf tournament in the world among the players to an entity that grows more proactive by the day.
Not to worry, strict Bobby Jones constructionists. The Masters will always be steeped in tradition. Payne, a Georgian, will make sure of that.
But theres nothing wrong with looking ahead while keeping a prominent spotlight on the past.
To that end, the 2008 Masters will now allow youngsters, ages eight to 16 to attend the tournament on Thursdays and Friday as long as they are accompanied by a ticket-holding adult patron. That patron must be able to verify that he is the owner of the ticket, not a person who bought the ticket from somebody else.
We want to inspire the next generation of golfers now, Payne said in a prepared statement.
What does this mean? Heres one thing:
If Im a boy or girl in that age group, and my family is fortunate enough to have tickets to the Masters, and Im either devoted to or curious about golf, I know whats all of a sudden at the top of my Christmas list.
Payne also announced that the popular and videogenic Wednesday Par 3 tournament will be broadcast on ESPN as part of a two-hour show the day before the start of the tournament.
Its an event everyone enjoys, Payne said. And we think it will demonstrate to kids just how fun golf can be.
Thats good news for everybody in the game, especially the people still laboring under the misapprehension that the Lords of Augusta dont even know how to spell fun, much less define it.
The Par 3 contest is an informal opportunity for current stars and past champions to exhale (while their children or friends carry their bags) on the eve of the years first major. Moreover, the grounds out behind the Butler Cabin where they stage the Par 3 is one of the prettiest little patches of land on Gods green earth. Par is 27. Length is 1,060 yards. And the number of holes-in-one recorded there since the event began in 1960 is 63.
Payne and the Masters are inviting us further inside Augusta National than weve ever been before and they promised, in the release, to not stop at these two moves.
Speculation will eventually and inevitably center around the notion that a woman will one day hold a membership to all male Augusta National.
Its impossible to predict when that will happen or who that person will be. But the more you follow whats been taking place on Paynes watch, it feels like the question is no longer will it happen, but when.
And, of course, who.
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