Wednesday At The Masters
Fred Ridley announces public course renovation and job project while reiterating support on distance regulation. Also: the Champions Dinner turns spicy and an improved Par 3 Course is unveiled.
Since Fred Ridley became Masters Chairman in 2017, the former U.S. Amateur champion and attorney has green-lit initiatives that might be seen as a tad aggressive by a few of his, eh-em, less forward-looking predecessors. And while some announcements were in the proverbial “if we really want to be bold” drawer prior to Ridley’s ascension, Wednesday’s announcement to redevelop the local muni is a Ridley special in the vein of his equally bold, but already wildly successful Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
As with the surprising “ANWA” announcement in 2018, the latest project appears hot off the grill—i.e. details are to come—yet appears to be a natural response to the nationwide groundswell around rejuvenating depleted public courses with good “bones”. On Wednesday, Ridley revealed that the club will be supporting a “multiphase partnership” with Augusta Municipal Golf Course, a.k.a. “The Patch.” Other TBD components include bringing in the Augusta Technical College and The First Tee of Augusta “to strengthen public golf in the community and foster even greater opportunities to play the game and work in the sport.”
The club will pay for a master plan along with execution of work for The Patch “to provide a best-in-class, affordable public golf experience for the Augusta community.”
The project will also include a job training component with the Augusta Technical College.
“While in its early stages, this partnership can help produce the next generation of golf’s workforce and make the game more accessible and inviting to youth and residents throughout the community,” Ridley said.
While plenty of details are to be hashed out just as they were with the ANWA five years ago, Ridley also dropped this eye-opener in response to a question during Wednesday’s annual State of the Masters press conference.
“If we are successful working on this project, I really do think it's a model for other communities,” he said. “We are very interested in taking this on the road, as we say. But right now our focus is right here in Augusta.”
A photo op this is not.
As with other forces like the National Links Trust and numerous other efforts to take run-down munis and make them great assets in the game, there is no better way to “grow the game” than by rejuvenating the green spaces we already have.
In other Chairman’s news:
Ridley addressed player skepticism about the 13th tee.
The Masters will award an exemption to the current NCAA men’s individual champion.
The reigning NCAA women’s champion will receive an invite to the ANWA. The players in both cases must remain an amateur.
Ridley offered encouragement for the USGA/R&A distance proposal before confirming support during the question portion of the conference.
There were announced changes to Masters qualifying that will continue invitations to PGA Tour fall event winners even if the tournaments are not awarded full FedExCup points. Ridley also closed a Tour Championship top 30 exemption to “eligible” players, one that allowed Taylor Gooch to accept a Masters invitation this year despite being suspended by the PGA Tour after jumping to LIV.
He announced the “tournament's first official hospitality program outside our gates” located across Washington Road near the North Gate.
Clarified the club stance on LIV and Greg Norman’s status here as a former major winner.
More on the announcements along with notable quotes from the Q&A:
On the proposed elite competition ball: “As the comment period remains open, we will be respectful of the process as the USGA and the R&A consider this important issue. We have been consistent in our support of the governing bodies, and we restate our desire to see distance addressed.”
Later in the press session Ridley was more decisive, saying “in a general sense, we do support the proposal” and finished by saying, “we have been consistent in our support of the governing bodies, and we restate our desire to see distance addressed.”
Regarding players who have denounced the proposal and if any of them had sought Ridley’s thoughts based on his experiences lengthening Augusta National, Ridley said “there are certainly a number of players who have voiced opposition to it. I'm sure there are reasons for those opinions. I would also say that equally, on the other side, there are some notable players that have some pretty strong opinions that this is the right thing to do.”
He added, “I hope some more of them will talk to me.”
Asked if he might order the making of a “Model Local Rule” ball should manufacturers refuse to make one, Ridley said “I don’t think that’s a practical solution.”
Ridley on the NCAA invites: “These additions to our qualifications are in recognition of the impressive quality of today's collegiate game, and in continued respect to Bobby Jones who believed in the importance of the best amateurs in the world competing at Augusta National.
Regarding the new 13th tee: “After careful evaluation this summer, we moved the tee back, adding 35 yards to the scorecard. We believe this modification will put a driver in play more often and restore the element of risk and reward that was intended in the original design of the hole.”
He also added during the Q&A portion: “I certainly look forward on Sunday to having someone in competition with a 3- or 4-iron in their hand or even a hybrid hitting their shot into the 13th hole rather than an 8-iron. I think on balance it's going to prove to be the right decision.”
The “tournament's first official hospitality program outside our gates” located across Washington Road near the North Gate, Ridley said, “We are confident demand for this offering will far exceed the supply of tickets, and beginning today we are collecting information on Masters.com for those who are interested.”
Asked about Greg Norman’s recent comments about not getting an invite: “I would also add that, in the last ten years, Greg Norman has only been here twice, and I believe one of those was as a commentator for Sirius Radio.
It really was to keep the focus on the competition.”
New Look Par 3 Course Debuts
Before the golfers, caddies and their children opened up the new-look Par 3 Course, I took a spin around and chatted with longtime patrons putting their chairs down. The course is noticeably more interesting, with water in play on all but one hole and several fun looking shots.
The re-routing of holes 1-5 opened up more space for spectating comfortably and to get better use of DeSoto Springs Pond. The surrounds of the course include a modest merchandise and food building featuring the vital basics (GPICS) but no beer. Smoking is also prohibited. Heaven on Earth.
Also included are standing tables for quick bites to watch the event. The remodel also added improved drink stands, a stone drinking fountain commemorating past winners, and some subtle re-grading of the hill behind the 9th green for safer spectating. The 1050-yard course has a designated “junior” autograph area and permanent restrooms.
As for the contest? An impressive 76 of the 88 players competing in this year’s Masters signed up and teed off. There were five aces, including back-to-back by Seamus Power at the 8th and 9th holes.
Just to repeat that: Seamus Power made back-to-back holes-in-one. 🎤
Tom Hoge won the Par 3 Contest with a score of six-under-par 21.
The holes-in-one were recorded by four, including Hoge (No. 8), Power (Nos. 8 and 9), Scottie Scheffler (No. 9) and Bubba Watson (No. 4), which marks 107 total holes-in-one made since the inception of the Par 3 Contest in 1960.
Power is the third player with consecutive holes in one in the Par 3 Contest, joining Claude Harmon (1968) and Toshi Izawa (2002). But you already knew that.