William “Hootie” Johnson, chairman emeritus of Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters Tournament, died Friday morning at the age of 86, the club announced Friday.
Johnson served as club chairman for eight years and his tenure included several key events.
Johnson oversaw major renovations to the golf course, including the lengthening of several holes, adjustments to the qualifying standards for The Masters and a challenge to the club’s all-male membership during his chairmanship, which began in 1998.Ri
In a response to National Council of Women’s Organizations chairwoman Martha Burk, who urged a boycott of the club and The Masters until female members were admitted, Johnson wrote that Augusta National would not be forced into changing its membership policy at “the point of a bayonet.”
Burk’s protest initially drew wide media coverage but did not lead to an immediate change by the club and the movement eventually faded. In 2012, Johnson’s successor, Billy Payne, presided over the club’s admittance of its first two female members.
While Johnson was cast in a public role of supporting the men-only status, he in fact had been active in civil rights activities and was considered a social progressive in South Carolina, where he lived.
Under Johnson’s leadership, Augusta National was lengthened to 7,445 yards as the club reacted to changes in golf’s technology. Johnson also added a controversial grove of pine trees to the right side of the par-4 11th hole.
In a statement released Friday, Payne said of Johnson:
“He boldly directed numerous course improvements to ensure that Augusta National would always represent the very finest test of golf. Simultaneously, Hootie expanded television coverage of The Masters, improved qualification standards for invitation to the Tournament and reopened the series badge waiting list for the first time in more than 20 years. Many of these measures brought more people than ever closer to The Masters and inspired us to continue exploring ways to welcome people all over the world to the Tournament and the game of golf.
“Hootie stepped down as chairman on May 5, 2006, leaving both Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters Tournament in exceptional form. In the years that followed, Hootie was a frequent visitor here, enjoying the rewards of retirement with his wife, Pierrine, his four daughters, his sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren, to say nothing of the many friends he made through a rewarding and honorable life.
“At all times, Hootie selflessly served as my personal mentor on matters here at Augusta National and The Masters, as well as in business and life. He impressed upon me his obsession for constant improvement and a love for Augusta National that will forever remain unmatched. As the current chairman, I owe an immeasurable debt to Hootie Johnson, and I will thank him every day for what he has meant to me personally as well as to the legacy of Augusta National and The Masters.
“In the days ahead, we will privately honor the memory of Hootie Johnson, stand with his beautiful family and celebrate his extraordinary life.”