AUGUSTA, Ga. – The map showed an outlined area not far from Augusta National, only this isn’t another neighborhood the club plans to purchase. It’s the historic Harrisburg and Laney Walker area that the Masters and its partners are trying to save.
Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley announced Wednesday a $10 million donation to help with the redevelopment of what he said were once-thriving communities that have gone through decades of poverty, crime and unemployment.
Ridley said the Masters and its three corporate partners — IBM, AT&T and Bank of America — would each contribute $2.5 million.
Leading the way is the Medical College of Georgia Foundation, which is working with the Community Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club to develop a community center that would provide health care, literacy training, work development and nutrition. The plan includes a new headquarters for the Boys & Girls Club.
“Each organization’s $2.5 million contribution will provide the majority of funding needed for this first step in the journey to uplift these underserved communities and, importantly, to promote generational change and the opportunity for economic mobility all Americans deserve,” Ridley said.
It capped a week of announcements geared toward responding to a year of racial injustice and inequality.
That includes Lee Elder, the first Black to compete in the Masters, in 1975, hitting the honorary tee shot next April with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. In addition, the Augusta National is paying to start a women’s golf program at Paine College, a historically Black college in Augusta, and awarding scholarships in Elder’s name to a male and female golfer at Paine.
Ridley says the Harrisburg and Laney Walker development project doesn’t end with the $10 million donation. He expects other entities to get involved.
“We view this as just a catalyst for future opportunities,” Ridley said. “But it’s really exciting, and I think it’s something we’re going to be able to talk about not just in April, but the following April and the one after that.”
The Masters announced in 2002 that past champions would only be able to play until they were 65, a policy that was reversed the following year by Hootie Johnson, then the club chairman.
Champions now can play as long as they like. Bernhard Langer received that assurance at the Masters Club dinner Tuesday night with Chairman Fred Ridley.
Langer is 63, making him the oldest player in the field this year. He also remains competitive, currently leading the money list on the PGA Tour Champions. He has made the cut five of the last seven years at the Masters, including a tie for eighth in 2014 when he was 57.
“I wasn't sure if there was an unwritten rule for an age limit for past champions to play in the Masters so I did ask the question of chairman Fred Ridley,” Langer said in an interview with Mercedes, his corporate partner. “He said that as long as we can stand upright and play golf, we are welcome to play, and that we will all know when the time is right to stop playing.”
Augusta National has room to expand the par-5 13th hole after a land purchase from adjacent Augusta Country Club. The 510-yard hole can be reached in two with as little as a wedge, as Bubba Watson showed a few years ago and Bryson DeChambeau is likely to match.
“I’ve been reluctant thus far to make any major changes regarding adding distance to the golf course,” Ridley said. “I think sometimes when you do that, there are unintended consequences that come out of that. ... It changes more than just adding distance. The look of the hole changes. And the design philosophy of the hole changes.”
To the broader topic of the distance, which the USGA and R&A are studying, with a comprehensive review due out next spring, Ridley said, “We are at a crossroads.”
“I so think that we’re coming closer to a call to action,” he said. “And all I can say is that, as it relates to our golf course, we have options, and we will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant.”
Ridley said a year ago that going for the green on No. 13 is no longer the “momentous decision” Bobby Jones envisioned, and that opinion hasn’t changed.
“It still provides a lot of drama, but its challenge is being diminished. We don’t think that’s good for the Masters. We don’t think it’s good for the game,” he said. “But the issue is a lot larger than Augusta National and the Masters.”
He was only certain that it would not change for the next Masters. Any work is typically done during the summer when the course is closed.
CROW'S NEST Because of social distancing, the six amateurs in the field can't all stay in the Crow's Nest suite atop the clubhouse at the same time. They are taking turns.
That isn't the case most years. And it wasn't in 1976, when Masters Chairman Fred Ridley stayed there for the first time. He was in the field as the U.S. Amateur champion.
“I was up there with Curtis Strange and I think Keith Fergus, maybe, and a couple other guys,” Ridley said. "And I probably shouldn’t say this, but I do remember, there’s a window in the Crow’s Nest that actually was operable that went out onto the roof. And Curtis and I went out and sat on the roof and watched the world go by.
“Now, could you imagine that happening today?"
The Masters is doing away with the 10-shot rule for the 36-hole cut, and it would seem to be perfect time with having fewer daylight hours in November. Now the cut is only for the top 50 and ties.
But it's not just for this unusual Masters. In fact, Masters Chairman Fred Ridley said it was decided before the pandemic forced the Masters to be postponed in April.
Ridley said data shots that over the last several years, only two players have been in contention who made it to the weekend by being within 10 shots of the lead.
“While certainly it can happen, it just doesn't. It's not relevant that often, and we thought this was a way to sort of tighten things up and have a more predictable field size for the weekend," he said.
The Masters didn't have a cut until 1957. The 10-shot rule had been in effect since 1962.