Date: April 11, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

Hasten slowly is Masters mission

No Masters ball, no LPGA Tour event and no immediate changes to the 13th hole. But there will be one whopping new tunnel, oh, and some pressure on golf's governing bodies.

They're the chief upshots of Fred Ridley's annual chairman's address at Augusta National today, the one day of the year when golf's most influential club airs its voice publicly.

Ridley said he'd been chuffed to witness the passion and exposure the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur tournament had generated globally at the weekend.

But when asked about the prospects of the doors opening again for a professional women's event, Ridley tapped the brakes hard.

"Our focus throughout our history has been on, as far as our efforts to promote the game outside of the Masters, have always been on amateur golf," said Ridley, a former USGA president who instigated the ANWA when he became chairman in October 2017.

"I think what we would like to do, and hopefully will achieve, is doing things that will benefit professional golf, benefit professional women’s golf and all of golf. But by promoting women amateurs, the future stars of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, we’d like to think that that is something that’s going to benefit them, as well.

"We were trying to balance providing the women competitors with the opportunity to be at Augusta National, to have a championship decided at Augusta National, but be cognizant of the fact that we were just a few days away from the Masters.

"So … with the Masters being the epicentre of our competitive tournament administration efforts, we do have some limitations as to what we could do, and we try to balance that in deciding how we can best deploy our resources for the good of the game. I think that’s the approach we are going to continue to take."

As the Masters prepares for its 83rd edition with its longest ever course – courtesy of the fifth tee being moved 40m back – Ridley said the prospect of lengthening the 13th hole remained a possibility, but not immediately.

The club has bought land from the adjacent Augusta Country Club to give itself the power to reshape the 13th should decisions on golf's distance technology boom continue to alter the original design philosophy of arguably the game's most famous par-five.

"Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by (designers Bobby) Jones and (Alister) MacKenzie. The momentous decision that I've spoken about and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two, is to a large extent, no longer relevant.

"Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action.

"In doing so, we fully recognise that the issue of distance presents difficult questions with no easy answers. But please know this: The USGA and The R&A do have the best interests of the game at heart. They recognise the importance of their future actions. You can be assured that we will continue to advocate for industry-wide collaboration in support of the governing bodies as they resolve this very important topic."

Asked if he was hesistant about making changes to "Amen Corner", Ridley said he didn't want to move too quickly because it was such a renowned part of the course.

"There's no hesitation on my part or historically on the part of Augusta National to make changes that are necessary, that's been observed through the years. (But) Amen Corner is a sacred place in the world of golf. I am hesitant to move too quickly in that regard.

"My preference … would be to see what happens, what the governing bodies decide is best for the game, and then we will take appropriate action in response to that."

Ridley also scotched the notion that if the distance technology wasn't reined in on the world's tours, that a "Masters ball" – with controlled specs and to be used by all players – could be introduced.

"I think it’s very unlikely that we would ever produce a Masters ball. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think you can be pretty assured that that’s the case."

He then confirmed that with help from local and state authorities, Augusta National would this year begin work on building a tunnel that would run underneath Washington Rd, the main thoroughfare to the course's north.

In addition to improving traffic and pedestrian flow, Ridley said it would allow the creation of a state-of-the-art television and digital compound over the existing road, eliminating the current smaller structures between the par-three course and 11th tee of the main course.

Ridley also said discussion regarding a Masters-specific exit off the nearby Interstate freeway were ongoing.