Billy Payne, the man whose visionary 11-year chairmanship of Augusta National reshaped and expanded the club’s leadership role in golf, is on the phone and he’s quick to share some news.
It’s not about his rightful induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame next Monday in Carmel, Calif., though that has him excited, too.
Payne, 71, has just become a great grandfather for the first time, giving him 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
“Really cool,” Payne says of his expanding clan. “We’ve got a big crew.”
Since stepping down as chairman of Augusta National in 2017, Payne has more time to do other things, though his attachment to the club remains strong and deep. In his own way, Payne led Augusta National into a new age, committed to sharing the Masters Tournament with a wider worldwide audience while also expanding the club’s amateur initiatives.
Under Payne’s leadership, Augusta National was proactive, creating the Asia-Pacific Amateur, the Latin America Amateur and the hugely popular Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
At a club famous for its privacy, Payne opened doors, admitting the first female members, while changing the perception that Augusta National exists only for its members, though it remains protective of its members’ interests.
For those reasons and more, Payne will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in a class that includes the late Peggy Kirk Bell, two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen, longtime LPGA star Jan Stephenson and Dennis Walters, who didn’t let paralysis stop him from becoming one of the game’s most inspirational performers.
“My dad taught me you do the best you can do and however that stacks up against others, it is what it is, as long as you’ve done the best you can do.” – Billy Payne
Payne and his family have planned a long weekend on the Monterey Peninsula, seeing old friends, celebrating his induction and playing a little golf.
“Have the opportunity to win $10 or to lose $10,” Payne says, chuckling.
Payne doesn’t play as much golf as he might because of what he calls “my infamous back injury,” a lingering and bothersome issue which has limited his time on Augusta National and other courses. He still plays, just not as often as some might assume.
“I’m at a point where I think sometimes I fake my injury a little more,” Payne says, laughing at himself. “I still enjoy it very much.”
Payne was audacious enough to believe he could bring the Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1996 and did, with the help of many others. And he subsequently saw to it that Augusta National could use its place in the game to benefit golf. He made it part of his mission to have the club reach out, and the impact has been significantly and far-reaching.
By honoring Payne, the Hall of Fame is also recognizing the club’s influence on the game.
“I think they kind of threw darts and I was the one picked to symbolize that. I’m honored to play that role,” Payne says.
“In terms of growing the game, we made a significant commitment to the partnerships we have with all the other golf organizations in the world. We reached out and said it’s our turn to help and we’d be delighted and honored to work in partnership around the world, locally, Drive, Chip and Putt, whatever, to expose a new audience to this great game.”
Asked what he’s most proud of during his tenure as chairman, Payne defers on the big achievements and focuses on a more personal one. After Jim Armstrong, the longtime executive director of Augusta National, retired in 2013, Payne honored his 35 years of service to the club by making Armstrong a member.
“I’m tingling remembering it,” Payne says.
Payne’s wife, Martha, deserves credit for sparking the idea that led to the creation of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, which culminates with juniors competing in skills challenges at Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters.
The competition, open to boys and girls in all 50 states, was announced in 2013, debuted the following April and has since grown into a part of Masters week with national television coverage.
“The truth is my wife Martha mentioned one day that it would be really cool if Augusta could get behind something like the Punt, Pass and Kick that the NFL does. She made the comment in passing,” Payne says.
“I started thinking about it and I talked to Jim (Armstrong) and to (his successor) Will Jones. It’s hard to have an idea at Augusta National that our staff cannot execute. While I knew it would stress all the resources, once again they exhibited their genius and their willingness and their enthusiasm. It’s been a great addition to our annual program.
“I cannot overemphasize the exceptional job the PGA of America does organizing and conducting all of the qualifiers. It is a gargantuan commitment of talent and time and resources. It could not happen without them. They are magnificent in what they do.”
In his time as chairman, Payne says he was guided by advice his father gave him, the same principle that helped him lead various businesses, land the Olympics and lead Augusta National.
“It’s well known that my dad always judged everything not by the success achieved but by the effort expended. My dad taught me you do the best you can do and however that stacks up against others, it is what it is, as long as you’ve done the best you can do,” Payne says.
“That’s what I’ve tried to do and I’ve always been given an unusual amount of opportunity to work in partnerships. I’ve said a million times and I will say it again at Pebble Beach, my entire success in life has been attributable to the friendships and the people who have refused to allow me to fall on my face. That’s been the story of my life and I’m so grateful for it.”
Of all the decisions Payne says he made as chairman of Augusta National, the most meaningful may have been his last big decision – to name Fred Ridley as his successor.
“I accomplished the most important objective and responsibility of any chairman and that is naming a successor who is going to be even better,” Payne says.
“I feel very comfortable, grateful and appreciative that I have done just that and seeing how that was my most important job, I’m feeling pretty good about how I did.”
Though Billy Payne stepped down as chairman of Augusta National in 2017, his ties to the club still run deep. Photo: Harry How, Getty Images
Rate this article
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Thanks for your feedback!