April 8, 2009
AUGUSTA---One great Masters tradition is the chairman's news conference. The chairman always likes to speak with the media on Wednesday of Masters Week, and today was no exception.
Chairman Billy Payne, the man who brought the Olympics to Georgia, is very comfortable in front of the media and taking questions. He spoke for about 40 minutes. There was no huge news this year, and there were no questions about membership at Augusta National.
Payne talked about how special this year is for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's been 75 years since the Masters Tournament was founded. This isn't the 75th Masters, because they missed a few years back during the war, but the Tournament first started 75 years ago. Secondly, this is the last Masters for Gary Player. Payne said he'd like to see the big three--Player, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus--be the honorary starters one year.
Payne also talked about the anniversary of the first green jacket. It's been 60 years since the first player was awarded that now important symbol.
As far as golf course changes, one thing we saw this year was that the National condensed a little bit. This year, they didn't try to stretch the course out to the very edges of Berckmans Road. That means the first fairway is actually a little bit shorter. Out here, shorter is big news. We asked the chairman if he thought the Augusta National is as long as it needs to be. He says it's as long as it needs to be this year, and that he'll watch the weather and see what happens.
Payne spoke about some of the work projects going on at the course. The very biggest one has to be the new practice facility just across the parking lot from the first fairway. This time next year, the Augusta National will have a state-of-the-art practice facility just for the pros during Masters Week. The facility will include observation decks for the patrons.
The chairman also wished the best to Spain's Seve Ballesteros. Ballesteros is undergoing chemotherapy for a cancerous brain tumor.