Billy Payne has spent a lifetime bringing grand visions and inspirations to life.
Two, in particular, stand out:
More than 30 years ago, Payne convinced the world to bring the Olympic Games to Atlanta.
And, in his 11 years as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, Payne took the famously private club to the world.
There is an almost circular feel to what he has done, a loop that encompasses the things he values. What he has done at Augusta National builds on the vision of founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts but it also expands the club’s mission beyond its property line.
The announcement Wednesday that Payne will retire as chairman of Augusta National effective Oct. 16 with Fred Ridley as his successor came not so much with a sense of shock as with a recognition of the inevitable. As much as anyone, Payne seems to understand the culture and purpose of the most famous club in golf and in his announcement he said the position of chairman is “too great for one person to claim as their own for too long a period of time.”
Payne’s time has been extraordinary.
He was the chairman who welcomed the first female members into Augusta National, a seismic social move that helped change clubs around the world.
Under his guidance, Augusta National has developed and nurtured the Asia-Pacific Amateur and Latin America Amateur championships, global competitions intent on building the game outside the United States and the United Kingdom.
He created the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship to encourage young people in golf, and the competition’s national finals at Augusta National on the Sunday preceding Masters week are now an inspiring piece of the club’s rich tapestry.
As chairman, Payne has overseen a massive and carefully planned expansion of the club’s facilities, creating a campus unlike any other. It has been done with taste, an unfailing eye for detail and an appreciation for quality. No doubt there have been difficult negotiations and challenging crossroads, but the result is unmatched.
To anyone who clung to the outdated notion that Augusta National existed frozen in time, Payne proved otherwise with his emphasis on advancements in technology and content delivery. He believes in chasing the future.
Payne understood Augusta National’s role in the global game and, if anything, he enhanced it. Because of what it is and what it represents, Augusta National is a powerful force. At its heart, it’s a golf club for its members but it has grown into more than that and Payne hasn’t shied away from the responsibilities that come with that.
There is a consensus that the best clubs are guided by leaders with clear vision, a sense of purpose, an appreciation of the common good, an ability to inspire and a sense of community.
Payne brought those qualities with him to his role at Augusta National and, as he steps down, he has made the club better and, in the process, made the game better.
That is a rich legacy.
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