By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – The winds of change continued to blow through Augusta National on Wednesday but chairman Fred Ridley made it clear that some things will never alter at the home of the Masters.
While tradition remains the bedrock of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, Augusta National is willing to embrace new ideas when it suits as it did last week when hosting a first women’s tournament.
More changes, big and small, in both attitude and design are on the horizon.
Much of the talk coming into the year’s first major has centred on tweaks to the fifth hole, which has been stretched 40 yards with the potential to be the most difficult on the iconic layout.
While the course has undergone almost continuous renovations, some holes will never change, such as Amen Corner which Ridley declared a “sacred place”.
Outside the Augusta National walls, however, there are no such concerns.
The club has spent hundreds of millions of dollars gobbling up land for a new mega-project — building a digital broadcast compound that will require the construction of a tunnel under Washington Road — that Ridley described as the first of its kind in the State of Georgia.
“As we state every year, we’re bound to a tradition of constant improvement,” said Ridley during the chairman’s annual address. “We maintain (former club and tournament chairman) Mr. Roberts’ philosophy that nothing stands still.”
In contrast to Ridley’s forward thinking, time has often appeared to stand still at Augusta National, which did not welcome its first woman member until seven years ago.
Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and opened for play in January 1933, there were no mobile phones then and none are allowed on the property now.
Billy Payne, the previous Augusta chairman, said smartphones would never be welcome on the course as long as he was in charge and Ridley, who took over as the top man in 2017, sees no reason to change that policy.
The zero-tolerance mobile phone policy is one that Augusta National zealously monitors.
Anyone caught on the grounds with a cell phone is removed and there have been reports of offenders having their badge privileges revoked for life.
“I think our patrons appreciate our cell phone policy,” said Ridley. “I know that we have now become an outlier, if not the only outlier in golf, as well, at allowing cell phones.
“I don’t believe that’s a policy that anyone should expect is going to change in the near future, if ever.
“I can’t speak for future chairmen, but speaking for myself, I think we got that right.”
Manners and golf etiquette, which have slowly disappeared from many other tournaments, will also never go out of style at Augusta National, Ridley said.
No running, no pictures, no laying down on the grass and certainly no boorish or ill-timed comments are tolerated.
“We encourage our patrons to exhibit proper decorum,” said Ridley. “It’s right on the pairing sheet.
“There’s a great quote from Bobby Jones about that, and the importance of good behaviour and how distressing it is for someone to applaud a bad shot, which you do hear from time to time at other places.
“There’s something about Augusta National when someone walks through the gates, they know that it’s a place of respect, of beauty, and honouring traditions and values of the game.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)