Billy Payne retires and Fred Ridley takes over as new chairman of Augusta National

Incase you are wondering what Augusta National is, here it is; Augusta National is a golf club, located in Augusta, Georgia, is one of the most famous golf clubs in the world. Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts on the site of the former Fruitland (later Fruitlands) Nursery, the course was designed by Jones and Alister MacKenzie and opened for play in January 1933. Since 1934, it has played host to the annual Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf,  and the only major played each year at the same course. It was the number one ranked course in Golf Digest’s 2009 list of America’s 100 greatest coursesand is currently the number ten ranked course on Golfweek Magazines 2011 list of best classic courses in the United States, in terms of course architecture.
Billy Payne, the former head of Atlanta’s Olympic Committee, has announced his retirement from his role as Chairman of Augusta National after Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, with Fred Ridley named as his successor.
Payne has served in the role for 11 years, during which he welcomed the first female members at the home of the Masters.
The retiring chairman Billy Payne took a ship in distress and rebuilt Augusta National into golf’s Titanic tournament operation, he inherited multiple mistakes made by the late Hootie Johnson and not only remedied those errors, but reinvigorated The Masters to an even greater standard by merely working off of the founder’s blueprint. Payne injected a new life into international amateur golf and started a grow-the-game initiative that boldly countered the vision of the PGA Tour’s First Tee. Most amazingly, the outgoing chairman opened the doors to Augusta National in a way that still marvels longtime attendees even after four editions of the Drive, Chip and Putt.
Gary Player (L) and Jack Nicklaus (R) with Billy Payne at Augusta
Gary Player (L) and Jack Nicklaus (R) with Billy Payne at Augusta
The 69-year-old will retire on October 16 and be replaced by former US amateur champion Ridley, who missed the cut in his three Masters appearances between 1976 and 1978.
Ridley played golf at UF and is a 1974 graduate of the school. He also is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. Ridley, 65, becomes the seventh chairman of the club that annually puts on the prestigious Masters golf tournament and is considered one of the most exclusive golf clubs in America.
He is also the first chairman who played in the Masters, missing the cut three times.
Ridley’s UF career was less than decorated as he never made the post season rotation while playing for coach Buster Bishop’s Gators. He was an alternate on Florida’s 1973 national title team that included All-Americans Andy Bean, Woody Blackburn, Ben Duncan, Phil Hancock and Gary Koch.
Fred Ridley was doing legal work at the law firm of Foley & Lardner LLP in downtown Tampa on Wednesday morning when breaking news came out of Augusta National. Ridley had come a long way from his childhood days playing public courses in rural Lakeland and Winter Haven, Florida. He had already won a U.S. Amateur and served as president of the USGA before the greatest honor in his golf life was bestowed upon him at age 65. While it seems daunting, joining the ranks of Clifford Roberts and to follow in the footsteps of Billy Payne, the job was something Ridley had been groomed for. Bobby Jones was a lawyer, too.
Fred Ridley (right) will take over as chairman
Fred Ridley (right). Ridley was handpicked by Payne to be his successor after chairing the Masters Competition Committee since 2011.
“The privilege I experienced serving as Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters was far greater than I could have ever imagined,” Payne said.
“I retire knowing it is simply the right thing to do – and at the right moment – to open the door and invite someone new to be called upon to lead, bring forth new ideas and craft a new vision.”
Ridley, who currently serves the Masters Tournament as Chairman of the Competition Committees, will become the seventh Chairman of Augusta National.
Jack Nicklaus led the tributes to the departing Payne and said: “In his 11 years, Billy Payne has taken Augusta National and the Masters Tournament to new levels. Under his leadership, the Club and the Masters have grown tremendously.
“Billy has been a strong leader and an innovative thinker, and I believe Augusta National, Masters Tournament patrons and the world of golf all have, in some way, benefitted from his brilliance.”
The next step in keeping Augusta National relevant will require something more clever than mowing fairways toward tees and adding a couple of new tees. New chairman Ridley could either be the perfect person to help pave the way for bifurcation using the power of The Masters, or the worst person possible for the job if he’s determined to keep sweeping the matter under a tapestry of tees, rye grass and trees. Ridley is the former president of the USGA and had been the head of the rules committee for the Masters. He owns a law firm in Tampa.