AUGUSTA, GA. - The two biggest storylines at Augusta on the eve of the Masters were the weather and Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne.
Which one is more powerful is up for debate.
At daybreak Wednesday, it was clear that overnight storms had wreaked havoc on Augusta. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and vicious winds left the most beautiful golf course in the world a mess.
Trees were knocked down and debris was everywhere. Rae’s Creek was overrun, bunkers were completely washed out and a restroom on the 16th hole was nearly destroyed by a falling tree.
What a disaster.
Enter Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne.
“Let me salute our incredible team of staff and volunteers. I think we were delayed in opening the course only 30 or 45 minutes,” Chairman Payne said.
What about the overrun on Rae’s Creek?
“It was below Hogan’s Bridge and not noticeable and not impacting competition.”
Of course not. It wouldn’t dare.
And the bunkers? Weren’t they completely washed out?
“We expect them to be fully restored to competitive conditions by the end of the day.”
Oh, right. Silly me. Chairman Payne has it all under control. The only casualty is that fans — I mean, patrons — on the 16th hole will have to cross their legs or walk to a restroom that isn’t destroyed.
“We hope to have it rebuilt and up and running by the end of the day,”
Ooookay. Now, that’s a bit scary, but impressive.
Come to think of it, scary but impressive is a good description of both the weather that caused the damage and the golf course that fixed it.
Like weather, Augusta National does what it wants, when it wants.
Like weather, Augusta National doesn’t feel the need to ask your permission or opinion.
These traits came to the forefront during an exchange between some members of the media and Chairman Payne.
Augusta National still does not have any female members and chairman Payne was asked if he foresees this changing.
“Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement,” he said.
That wasn’t the end of it. Minutes later a question was asked about Virginia Rometty, the new president and CEO of IBM. The company’s previous four CEOs have been invited to be members of Augusta National. Payne was asked about Rometty’s prospects for membership.
“One, we don’t talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don’t talk about it when a named candidate is part of the question,” he answered.
Tension began to fill the room but the questions didn’t stop.
“Don’t you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls around the world if they knew that one day they could join this very famous golf club?”
“Mr. Chairman, as a grandfather, what would you say to granddaughters?”
Payne wouldn’t bite.
“What would you suggest I tell my daughters?”
“I don’t know your daughters,” Payne answered.
Seconds later the nearly 30-minute interview was over.
It was the second storm I witnessed that day.
This is supposed to be the part where I rail against Augusta National’s policies. The part where I get on my soapbox. But I can’t.
Augusta National is the greatest golf course in the world. That’s all I ask of it.
I’m here for the a golf tournament not a moral debate.
Do I think they should allow female members? Sure, why not.
And it might happen, but when it does it won’t be because of public pressure or media needling. It will happen because the membership decides that’s what they want.
If they spent all their time worrying about what people think they wouldn’t be able to build restrooms in a day.