Transcript: Billy Payne news conference

Updated: May 8, 2006, 3:13 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of a news conference held by new Augusta National Golf club chairman Billy Payne. It was moderated by Glenn Greenspan. The transcript was provided by Augusta National:

GLENN GREENSPAN: Good morning everyone, and welcome to our call with Billy Payne, incoming Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament.

Mr. Payne is a Georgia native, and previously served as Chairman of the Media Committee since 2000. He was president and CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games.

Mr. Payne, if you wouldn't mind, could we please have an opening remark.

PAYNE: Thank you very much, Glenn, and hello everybody. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

I think I know just about everyone on the phone, and I certainly look forward to the opportunity of working with you as Chairman, much as I've enjoyed working with you these past six years in my responsibility as the Media Chairman.

First, and I think very obviously, I'm honored to be named the sixth Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. I am especially very proud to be the first lifelong resident of the State of Georgia to be selected Chairman. I'm especially grateful to my friend, Hootie Johnson, for his friendship and support, but particularly for his strong and exemplary leadership of our Club and Tournament over the past eight years. As you well know, he has assembled a terrific organization for both the Tournament and the Club and will remain a great resource to me as I undertake my new responsibilities as Chairman.

I am humbled by the thought of following in the footsteps of the great men who have preceded me, and I am well aware of the customs and traditions which they held so dearly and advanced so steadfastly. Bobby Jones, our president in perpetuity; Clifford Roberts, and the chairmen who followed, stood for integrity, honor and respect. I will do the very best that I can do to perform my responsibilities, to reflect proudly on those traditions, and to demonstrate time and time again my love and affection for Augusta National Golf Club, and the Masters.

If I may, I'd like to talk first about our golf course. There will be some changes to the course for the 2007 Masters that Mr. Johnson has already initiated, but certainly, I think you'll agree, not as significant as in the past. They will include adding five to seven yards in front of the tees on hole Nos. 11 and 15. The length of the tees on our other par 4s and 5s average about 20 yards. On those two holes, it's only about 13 yards. So these changes will make these tees consistent with the other tees on our course, and will provide us with more flexibility if the holes are playing into a substantial head wind or if the fairway conditions are soft.

Also, we will be adjusting the mow line at hole No. 11 about three to five yards on the golfer's right. This, we believe, will provide the medium-length player a wider fairway, especially at the 280- to 300-yard mark.

Also, on the 11th hole, and on the right, we will be removing the grass from under the pine trees and replacing it with pine straw. This, too, is consistent with other parts of our course.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very excited about today and look forward to your questions.

Q. Sounds like your first order of business is to make the course shorter somehow.
PAYNE: Well, I think it gives us the flexibility, Doug, that we want, depending on the course conditions and weather conditions.

Q. I wanted to ask you, one issue that has arisen during Hootie's tenure was the lack of female members. Can you see that changing?
PAYNE: Doug, I think I would answer that by saying as we've said and as you've heard many times in the past, on membership matters, all of them will be decided by our members, and we have no specific timetable to address that issue.

Q. And just as a quick follow up to that, and a simple one, Billy, what do you see as your goal as Chairman?
PAYNE: Well, I've been thinking a lot about that obviously over the last several days, Doug, and I think first and foremost, to preserve the great traditions of this golf course, those traditions which make it so special, those elements of this Club and this Tournament which make it one of most popular sporting venues in the world, and to embrace in every respect changes which continue to make, as they have in the past, this course during the Masters Tournament prove itself to be one of the great courses of the world. I think I begin my tenure with the course and the Club in pretty good shape.

Q. I'm wondering if this teleconference is any indication that under your tenure as Chairman, there will be other media availabilities other than Wednesday the week of the Tournament.
PAYNE: Well, I think I answer that specifically by saying that I certainly intend to come down there more than just Wednesday as I'm quite accustomed to the media center, made a lot of friends and feel a significant responsibility that the media continues to have all of the needs and services in order to do their job properly.

So I think you're going to see a lot more of me, and certainly have an opportunity to continue those relationships.

Q. But does that include possible situations such as a teleconference other than the week of the Tournament?
PAYNE: You know, I don't know. I haven't yet taken over officially, so I haven't really thought about that.

Q. I was curious, some of us as you well know by now spoke with Martha Burk the day this was announced, and she said she would call you and wanted to congratulate you and also wanted to sort of open up a dialogue on the 600-pound gorilla that's still in the room. I'm wondering, would you welcome having any kind of dialogue with her, and is that something that you see as being possible to occur?
PAYNE: Len, I think I'm very much aware of her position on all issues as they relate to Augusta National, and I don't really see at this time that any dialogue would be meaningful or helpful.

Q. So if she called, you wouldn't take her call?
PAYNE: I don't think any dialogue would be meaningful or helpful.

Q. I was going to ask you, you're the first Chairman that does not go back to the Clifford Roberts years in terms of your membership at the Club, does this signal some kind of new direction for the Club; that it's entering a new age, if you will?
PAYNE: Scott, you know, I don't really think so in that context. I think inevitably the next Chairman was going to be younger, and in all probability as is the case with me, would not have had the opportunity to have a relationship with either Mr. Roberts or Bobby Jones.

So having had that loss myself of never having had the privilege of knowing them, I want you to know that I have read extensively about their lives and I know a lot about their work at Augusta National, and I think these writings have proven and will continue to prove invaluable lessons for me. And I have the opportunity almost on a daily basis, I have many friends here who were friends and confidants of either or both Bobby Jones or Mr. Roberts, and they tell me stories about them all the time.

So while I missed, certainly, not knowing them, I think it's only logical, and it's simply a circumstance of the passage of time that we would about this time have a Chairman that didn't have a close, personal relationship, and maybe not one at all, as is the case with me, with either of them.

Q. Mr. Johnson mentioned the possibility in the future of adding PGA Tour winners back to the exemption ranks. Are there any other changes that you're going to be looking at right away?
PAYNE: You're accurate. We're looking at the issue of adding back PGA Tour winners. We're studying the issue. We don't expect to do that by 2007. In fact, it would actually be unfair to do so because there are golfers out there playing right now under the existing qualification standards.

So while you won't see it next year, I think it's a probability that you will see it sometime soon in the future.

Q. Just wondered, you've only had a few days to think about it, but what do you regard as your greatest immediate challenge?
PAYNE: I think I have -- I think it's safe to say that I will need to watch, to observe, I will need to learn a lot, get familiar with significantly greater detail about the operation of the Club and the Tournament than I now possess, and I've always felt that the best learning experience initially is certainly to listen and not talk. So that's what I plan to do in the coming months.

Q. And as a follow-up to that, obviously we know about your role as the driving force behind the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, what do you think you will bring to this position in terms of your own personal stamp?
PAYNE: Well, certainly that was a wonderful experience in my life. It afforded me some very special opportunities, not least of which was to deal extensively with folks in your profession, and perhaps that will assist me a little bit as we go forward.

I think perhaps, however, the most relevant element I can draw, I learned a little bit about the organization of substantial sporting events, the importance of spectators for the Olympics; patrons in the case of the Masters, and how important it is that they view this experience each and every time they come to the Masters as one of the great sporting experiences of their life. I'm going to consider that to be one of the most important responsibilities that I have, to make that experience the best that we can possibly make it.

Q. Like everybody else, congratulations, but I don't know, you're following a tough act.
PAYNE: Thanks, Jerry.

Q. What can you do from here? People tell me you're media savvy, you're also an Internet guy; can you take the Tournament in an electronic direction that it's never been in the past?
PAYNE: You know, that's a great question, and one I've already given significant thought to. First of all, I would emphasize that the folks around here that deal with the media, electronically, technologically and otherwise, Jim Armstrong, Will Jones, and of course, our own Glenn Greenspan, do so, very effectively; do so in the context of the emergence of modern technology. And yet I would think that during my tenure as Chairman, there will be significantly greater opportunities to use modern technology to expose our great Tournament and the intended experiences to a much larger audience around the world.

We will look proactively for those opportunities. We think to a very significant degree that exposure to one of the world's great sporting events, the Masters, is very positive for golf; and therefore, perhaps we can use the popularity of our Tournament to advance the game itself and do so at the speed and with the success that modern technology permits. So we'll be doing a lot of thinking about that specific issue in the coming months.

Q. One thing, going in another direction, you have been a member I think approximately since 1997. Most of the other chairmen have been members for a great long time; do you see that as an advantage, disadvantage or any factor at all in your tenure?
PAYNE: I think the biggest factor is I would say with certainty that I'm very lucky that I was able to make friends and have folks feel confident in entrusting this great responsibility to me after a relatively short term as a member.

But the most important thing I gain from that without regard to my age or how long I've been a member is that I've been entrusted with a very, very special responsibility.

Q. My questions were asked, but I have one of those off the wall kind of things, which is sort of normal. Being a gentleman from the south, do you have one of those closet nicknames we should know about?
PAYNE: Well, some people, I was traveling around the world, to some 110 countries, thought Billy was one of those closet names.

Other than that, my grandchildren call me Bobby. How they got that, I don't know. But it has stuck with all eight of them.

Q. We talk about the golf course and all that, what about your own golf game, what kind of a handicap do you have there and what did you shoot the last time you played the new golf course, I guess?
PAYNE: I have a 6.8 USGA index. Last time, I assume you're referring to the Tournament course?

Q. Right.
PAYNE: Do I have to answer that question? (Laughing). I think I shot in the mid-80s.

Q. You mentioned the confidence that the membership, that your fellow members have in you, you having been there not a long time, can you give us a glimpse of the process, and were you designated, is there a nominating committee, and when did you find out or have some idea that this was going to happen?
PAYNE: Let's see, I'm thinking about what parts of that I can or should answer.

Q. I thought that might be an issue.
PAYNE: Well, I've been in discussions -- Hootie made, Hootie inquired a short while ago, would I be interested in the undertaking if and when he chose to retire and step down. And so we've been talking for a short while about that. The process obviously included him but it does include other members, as well.

Q. A few of my questions have already been taken, but can you tell me a little bit more, carrying on plans with some of the property acquisition around the golf course and plans for the practice facility and those types of things?
PAYNE: Yes, sir, I can tell you a little bit, which will be the full extent of my knowledge at this point in time. I am, of course, as are all of you aware, that in order to accommodate the growing support and parking needs of the Tournament, including a state-of-the-art practice facility, we have had this effort underway now for a couple of years. It is ongoing. We hope to have some renderings to be able to share with y'all sometime next year, so you can see for yourself what precisely the plan is. And we continue to look for a completion date and utilization date in the 2010-2011 time frame.

Q. And I know your background as a college football player, pretty good one, and I assume that was your passion as a youngster. Can you talk a little bit about your evolution as a golfer?
PAYNE: Yes, sir, I can. I was never much of a golfer as a young adult. I played recreationally the business round once every six weeks. During the ten years of my Olympic effort, I struggled and revered those moments when I could go off by myself, think of something other than the Olympics, and essentially have some privacy which I didn't otherwise have for that whole ten-year period.

So typically every Sunday morning before church, I would go play golf by myself, accompanied only by the state patrol sergeant who was assigned to me throughout the process, and I would play and he would critique. Through that process of really trying to vent my frustrations and to be able to be by myself, I fell in love with the game.

Q. You, as so many of the members, are prominent and successful people in business, and in your case, athletics also, made significant achievements, yet it seems that now what you will best be remembered for is that you were Chairman of Augusta National. What does that say about the Club, the Masters and how do you feel about that; that this will probably be the achievement for which you are best known?
PAYNE: Well, I will be very proud of it, Jim. I think given the excitement of my career to date, the blessings which I have had, including having a lot of fun and a wonderful family, this is a great way to top a career in the midst of members whom I love dearly, a place which is perhaps the most beautiful in the world, and stay involved in a sporting event which is the envy of all others. It's a pretty good way to cap a career, I think.

Q. What was your police sergeant's name and how good of a golfer was he?
PAYNE: Well, I don't know, I never let him play.

Q. Did he sound like an expert?
PAYNE: No, he was -- well, yes, I recall him critiquing everything I did wrong, but I don't think he played anymore than I did. We just had fun on those occasions.

Q. Just curious, we saw that Mr. Johnson will now be considered Chairman Emeritus. Can you address what sort of role he would have or will he continue to have some sort of role in things, and any advice he may have given you as far as taking over the job?
PAYNE: I think it's fair to say that I have gotten, through the many conversations I've had through the years, and especially those recently, I've received a lot of advice from him in the context of his obvious experience with the job, his overall wealth of knowledge and experience here at Augusta. He will remain as Chairman Emeritus, but he will continue to do what he does best for me, and that is to be my friend and to be my advisor.

Q. Talking about the short-term in which he started discussing this with you, were you at all surprised at the timing of his announcement for him to step down and for you to step up?
PAYNE: Perhaps when we first started talking about it. But then as you can imagine, I became quite comfortable with it by the time we finished those conversations. And mostly, I was just grateful and very much mindful of the responsibility.

Q. I wanted to follow-up on the surprise factor, when it was first broached, were you at all taken aback by just the enormity of what you were talking about, the fact that Hootie would be stepping down and that you were being considered to take over?
PAYNE: Well, I'm not sure that it originally surfaced so straightforwardly, Bob. I think in our early discussions, he was probably No. 1, deciding if I would be interested while at the same time he was deciding if he would end up thinking that I would be the right one. So I would describe it as, you know, an evolutionary process.

Q. In a different vein completely, you were mentioning about the different ways to expose the Tournament as you move forward.
PAYNE: Yes, sir.

Q. Just wondered if you had any thoughts on the early-round coverage of the event. Over the years, we've seen more and more added, es
pecially on Sundays now, it's the entire round, or all 18 holes. Wondering if you've given any thought or if you have any opinions on showing more of the first two rounds. PAYNE: First of all, I salute Hootie for his innovation and initiating the 18-hole coverage on Sunday, which I think has been a great hit; even with the bonus golf we had this year, completing the third round on Sunday morning, an even greater hit.

I think that's something we will look at frequently. I must say, however, that I have not studied it to the degree that I would be prepared to even remotely suggest any time schedule or plans to increase the coverage at this time.

Q. Two questions, one last thing on the Martha Burk situation, did that come up at all before your appointment, were you quizzed at all on your position on that and did you need to address with Hootie or the membership before you accepted this job?
PAYNE: No, sir. My employment was not conditioned on how I responded to any questions other than would you take the job if offered.

Q. On the course, obviously there was a lot of opinions about how the course played in it's first year since the many changes, what did you think, and one of comments a couple of golfers made is it felt a lot more like a U.S. Open, and I wonder if you think that was a good thing or a bad thing or how you viewed the first year with the changes?
PAYNE: I think we went through the week experiencing quite a variance of opinion and anticipation of how the course would play once the Tournament began. People reflecting principally in the abstract about changes in lengthening, etc., I think as we went through the week and played the course in pretty good weather and golfing conditions, at the end, it seemed to me and what I read, there was quite a preponderance of favorable comments about fairness of the course notwithstanding the difficulty. And I think the leader board proved that; that golfers without regard principally to their length off the tee, if they had the complete game, could compete fairly, and even accomplish high finishes in the Tournament.

Q. Davis Love III was quoted the other day as saying he thought you would make this a fun Club. Most people view Augusta National as a place for serious sport and business. When you're through as Chairman, do you want the Club to be seen as more of a fun place, and if so, how do you go about doing that?
PAYNE: When you use the word more of a fun place, you put it in a relative context. I would like in my response, Ian, to drop the more and to say to you that one of my principle objectives and one about which I feel very comfortable and confident, is that during my tenure as Chairman, this will be considered a very fun place to play golf and to meet with friends.

Q. Obviously not many men get to run the Olympics and Augusta National in their lifetime, that's a pretty good daily double, which do you see as the greater or more improbable honor and achievement?
PAYNE: Well, I guess I'm always of the opinion that the one you're doing now is the most important. And so in anticipation of this honor and responsibility, and in that anticipation of the fun the experience will be, I think I can say that notwithstanding the fact that I've been very fortunate and very blessed, my wife has added our marriage as a third, by the way; that I will end up believing that this was the most fortunate opportunity of my lifetime.

Q. The timing of the announcement that Mr. Johnson was stepping down I think took a lot of people by surprise and probably prompted speculation on health issues and things like that, wonder if you can share anything about the discussions that you had with him regarding the impetus for him to step down or the timing of it?
PAYNE: Well, I can tell you to the absolute best of my knowledge, and I can assure you at no time in our conversations about his health ever surfaced as a reason for this decision at this time. So I think he just decided that he had had the experience long enough and that if you look at our records, with only one exception, seven or eight years is the customary time.

Q. The idea of a Tournament ball has been floated the last couple years, Billy, what's your position on that?
PAYNE: Well, I guess first I'll start off, Doug, by saying that I'm very encouraged that there's an ongoing dialogue among the governing bodies, USGA, the R&A, with input and participation by the PGA Tour to look at limitation on advances in both the equipment and the ball technology. And I remain very hopeful and encouraged that while a difficult issue, some equitable resolution will be made, which will have the effect of slowing down the distances or the gains and distances as we have observed over the last several years.

So many of our great golf courses are at risk of becoming obsolete. And while I and we would hope that resolution would come as quickly as possible through that normal process of the governing bodies, we would not take that option off the table in the context of what lengths to which we would go to protect our own course in the future.

Q. And secondly, I was just curious about your history at Augusta; in other words, the very first time you set foot on the golf course, what was the occasion, and the first time you attended the Masters, what was that occasion?
PAYNE: Well, that was the same occasion. I came over here with my soon-to-be wife in the spring of 1966 or '67. We were sophomores at the University of Georgia the year before we got married, and we came over here, we were given some tickets by one of my fraternity brothers, I believe, and we came over here together. That was the first time I had ever been here.

Q. I know you don't take over as Chairman for a couple weeks, but did you have any role in the decision on the new length of the course?
PAYNE: I'm sorry, the change that I introduced, that I spoke about earlier?

Q. Yes.
PAYNE: Other than concurrence, no, sir, I was not a part of those plans being developed.

Q. And just as a follow-up on the idea of having a fun Tournament, how strongly are you going to push Arnold Palmer to become the starter for the Tournament next year?
PAYNE: I'm not sure about the time frame, but I will tell you that I will be an advocate continuously, because I think it would be a wonderful addition; give us another cherished opportunity to see a great champion back at Augusta. So I'm going to do my best.

Q. I'm curious, you mentioned a little bit earlier in that talking about the spectators and the patrons, but I'm wondering from the aspect of running a business how managing an Olympics might compare to managing the site of the world's most prestigious Tournament?
PAYNE: Well, I think, first of all, I created my own team at the Olympics, and all of us in most cases were dealing with issues of first impression. We had never organized an Olympics. We were new to the specifics of the Olympics and we were learning on-the-go.

Now here, the benefit I can take measurably from is a very professional executive and administrative staff, wonderful caretakers of our course. So I am stepping into a position that already has in place the best experienced management you could possibly have, so I would say that's the biggest difference.

Q. How much do you expect to go to Mr. Johnson for advice in areas you have not had a chance to deal with yet on Augusta National?
PAYNE: You know, I really don't know. I can only tell you that our friendship is strong, and whether we're talking about Augusta National or Masters matters, we will be talking often, if doing nothing else than advancing a friendship we've enjoyed over these last nine years.

Q. Just wondering are you going to moderate your own press conference next year.
PAYNE: (Laughing). No. I think we'll be announcing, I don't know who it is yet, Ed, but we will be announcing a new Media Chairman in the fall, probably sometime in the November time frame.

Q. Everything has pretty much been asked, but a couple of things, are we pretty much maxed out on the golf course as far as the major changes? Are we pretty much going to see what we're going to get for a while here?
PAYNE: Yes, sir, I think we have it just about right now. Remaining hopeful as I do that some limitations will be placed on equipment which will diminish the game in distance. I think we've got the golf course pretty much like we like it right now.

Q. Sorry if this has been asked, but have you thought about what it's going to be like to be part of that Champion's Dinner next year?
PAYNE: I've thought about it a lot and I've been told that I'm an invited guest and I'll have a great time. My job is just to listen and have fun, and boy, I'm really looking forward to it.

Q. Wanted to know if you talked to your football coach, Vince Dooley, about this and what he had to think about it?
PAYNE: Well, I talked to him about it, after the fact, of course; it was a highly-guarded secret, and he was excited for me. I think you know with the exception perhaps of my deceased father, he's had more influence on my life than perhaps anybody else. So we talk frequently, and he's very proud of me.

Q. Now what does this mean, a Bulldog taking over a Yellow Jacket's golf course, Bobby Jones being --
PAYNE: Mr. Johnson would kill you for that. He was a Carolina -- or are you talking about Bobby Jones?

Q. I'm talking about Bobby Jones.
PAYNE: Well, I hope he would be proud. I haven't thought about that contradiction, however, but I don't think it will be a problem.

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