Such was the accomplished manner in which his predecessor Billy Payne navigated often choppy waters, the task facing Fred Ridley, the new chairman of Augusta National, can largely be as big or as small as he wants it to be.
In just over 11 years at the helm, Payne transformed the world’s most famous golf club inside and out.
Amongst other things, he presided over a policy change that saw the first women members admitted in 2012; oversaw the inauguration of three big grow-the-game initiatives (the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the Latin America Amateur Championship and the Drive, Chip & Putt Contest); negotiated lucrative television deals; acquired significant portions of land around the club that helped expand its physical footprint; and encouraged a raft of digital innovations that have helped the club remain relevant in a bold new age of media.
In short, Payne was exactly the right man at exactly the right time. He turned a club that was frequently condemned as a physical embodiment of ‘all that is wrong with golf’ and made it a benchmark. That’s no mean feat.
All of which leaves Ridley in a fortunate position. There is no mess to clean up, no damage to repair. He has the luxury of choosing to either manage Payne’s change, or continue to innovate from what is an exceptionally good blueprint.
Let’s say he chooses the latter. If he wants both a popular and progressive place to begin, there seems to be an obvious opportunity: the creation of a women’s Masters.
Such a proposition has long been the subject of industry chatter, without ever amounting to anything more substantial. But with Ridley, above, assuming control and the gender equality movement riding significant momentum, the timing is perfect for talk to become action.
The players, for what it’s worth, seem keen. Lydia Ko has previously stated that she ‘dreams’ of getting to play at Augusta. Paula Creamer, meanwhile, has said: “I've been there, I've played there, stayed in the Butler Cabin. I had an awesome time. I think the patrons and everybody would love to have two weeks there, two tournaments. Why wouldn't you?”
Exactly. Why wouldn’t you?
There are female equivalents of the other three men’s majors – the US Open, the Open and the US PGA – but a women’s Masters would make a huge statement. Unlike other golf organisations, it is under no obligation to anything other than it pleases or chooses to. It’s a private club. It marches to the beat of its own drum. It is accountable to itself and its members. So, when it breaks a habit or innovates, you know it’s not contrived. It’s authentic and done with uncontaminated intentions.
Should it create a women's Masters, it would be one of the most significant things ever to happen to the female game. No question.
It would also give the game, in general, a considerable PR boost. Despite much being done to the contrary, there exists a lingering perception that golf is rife with misogyny and an outlook more representative of the 19th century than the 21st. What better way to shatter that illusion than by staging a new event, just for women, at a club they were denied membership of for so long?
And then there’s the hardly-insignificant benefit to the fan, the casual observer, the armchair follower. How good it would be to see Augusta National in all of its unmistakable glory twice a year instead of once. I can’t think of anybody who would be opposed to that.
It’s not even as though the event would be a particularly big undertaking from a strategic or infrastructural standpoint. Augusta National already has permanent structures for media, telephones, restrooms, food and camera towers. Everything is already in place. The only thing that’s not is the field.
Be under no illusions, the case for a women’s Masters is as strong as the counter argument is weak.
Mr Ridley, it’s over to you.