Date: October 26, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes in Wellington

Ridley vows Augusta integrity critical

Incoming Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley kept open the possibilities of course extension and ball “slowing” today as he addressed the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Wellington.

While playing his cards tactfully and very close to his chest in one of his first media conferences since taking the reins from Billy Payne, Ridley was adamant that defending the integrity of Augusta National during the Masters was paramount.

Responding to a question about possible extensions to the club’s par-four fifth and par-five 13th holes with new land available to both, Ridley was an interesting combination of caution and awareness of the challenges confronting the course with the explosion of driving distances, in particular, in the professional game.

“We don't have any concrete plans yet to do that,” Ridley said.

“Our interest is quite simply to maintain the integrity of Augusta National golf course based on the design principles of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, and we will do whatever is necessary to maintain that integrity.

“Jones said that skill and imagination and strategy really equally go into playing Augusta National well. So, those are really the underlying tenets that we look at.

“We will look at the opportunities that you suggested but any others, as well.”

Flanked by R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, Ridley reiterated the club’s desired stance to not have to tinker with ball technology as one of the course’s defences during the Masters, but agreed it was an ongoing issue in the professional game.

“That's something that has been talked about in the past, which I know you're aware of. It's not something that we would want to do,” he said.

“We have an open dialogue with the governing bodies, with the R&A and USGA.  We have a lot of confidence in them and will continue to have confidence in them.

“It's an issue, certainly, that is taken seriously. We take it seriously.

“But again, we do have confidence in the governing bodies that they are going to do what's right for the game.”

Curiously, Slumbers added to the response without being prodded, as if to stress the governing bodies were on top of the situation.

“We are spending an enormous amount of time looking at it and thinking about it,” the R&A boss said.

“We look at it very much from two aspects and we are very clear about this.  One is factual round data, and we issued for the first time two years ago the data for the entire year for the PGA TOUR, European Tour, the LPGA (and) LET, so that we got the numbers out there.

“There's a lot of anecdotal evidence, but it's very important to have a look at the whole picture.

“Secondly, the thing we are most interested in in comparison is this balance between skill and technology.

“At the same time, we are looking at trying to get more people to play our game.  So, you're beginning to get to a point to where balancing skill and technology for the beginner or the young amateur could well be a different angle to the skill and technology balance for a very elite player.

“Those are the things that we are very carefully thinking through at the moment.”

Ridley also echoed Payne’s previous thoughts on expanding the wildly successful “Drive Chip and Putt” junior competition outside the United States, saying there was no immediate plans for Asia-Pacific expansion.

“It's something that I think could be considered based on that (domestic) success,” he said.

“We don't have any immediate plans right now, but we're going to focus on continuing to make it better in the US.  That's something that could possibly be in the future, and we'll certainly look at it.”

Outgoing Asia Pacific Golf Confederation chairman David Cherry reconfirmed the 2018 men’s title would be held at Sentosa, Singapore.

He also confirmed the same venue would play host to the region’s inaugural women’s championship next year in February with the winner of that event to gain three outstanding exemptions – one to the HSBC Women’s Champions a week later, one to the Women’s British Open and another to the year’s final women’s major, the Evian Championship.