Augusta National steps up to grow the game

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Augusta National is old school.

That’s no secret. From food and beverage prices straight out of the 1950s at the Masters to a conservative green-jacketed membership that isn't exactly made up of millennials, the club feels like a relic from past generations.

But let's not confuse old school for unprogressive.

It’s a common mistake. The general golf public, the masses who speak of Augusta National in reverential tones, know of its conservative history and genteel charm, but unwittingly jump to the conclusion that all of its policies and strategies toward the game remain lost in time.

The reality is, when it comes to advancements in golf, amongst governing organizations in the game, Augusta might be the clubhouse leader.

Let’s face it: Too often “grow the game” initiatives are born in meeting rooms and consist of more talk than action. How many of these ideas actually induce more people to start playing golf? Or watching more golf? Or somehow becoming involved with the game? Most times, the net results don’t equal the original blueprint.

The folks in green jackets, though – those movers and shakers and titans of industry – know how to get things done. And so rather than propose ideas, they call them to action.

The latest example is this week’s Latin America Amateur Championship. Founded in conjunction with the USGA and R&A, the tournament was largely spearheaded by Masters chairman Billy Payne, whose annual tournament is offering a spot in this year’s field to the winners – much as it has at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for the past six years.

This is how the game grows, by giving this opportunity – the golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if you will – to golfers from around the globe who wouldn’t previously have had the chance. They become inspired to play their way into the Masters; in turn, others are inspired to start playing (or start playing more, or start playing better), as well.

“Golf at Augusta National is recognized throughout the world, and it serves to inspire kids to become involved with the game,” Payne said this week. “It's not only appropriate, but our duty.”

As April nears, there will undoubtedly be private grumbling once again from PGA Tour players who fell short of qualifying for the year’s first major. They will insist that less skilled players shouldn’t be competing instead of accomplished professionals.

That would be missing the point, though.

This isn’t about who most deserves to compete in the Masters – or any other tournament. This is about growing the game. It’s about taking action instead of just talking about it.