Billy Payne retires as Augusta National chairman, replaced by Fred Ridley

Billy Payne, who oversaw multimillion-dollar purchases of land to enhance hospitality, instituted several grow-the-game initiatives and saw Augusta National admit its first female members, retired Wednesday as chairman of the club and the Masters Tournament.

Payne, 69, who took on the role in 2006 and presided over 11 Masters Tournaments, will be replaced by Fred Ridley, a former United States Golf Association president who won the 1975 U.S. Amateur.

"The privilege I experienced serving as Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters was far greater than I could have ever imagined," Payne said in a statement. "Just as nothing can prepare you for the unique responsibilities and important decisions that come with this position, it is equally impossible to anticipate the many joys and, most importantly, the wonderful friendships that are the ultimate reward of service. This honor, however, is too great for one person to claim as their own for too long a period of time. 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 that will honor our Founders and serve the game of golf for many years to come.

"I am now proud to call upon my good friend Fred Ridley to lead Augusta National and the Masters to a future that I am confident will hold new promise, while always being faithful to the principles of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Fred will be an excellent Chairman who will serve with my complete and enthusiastic support."

Payne's retirement will be effective at the beginning of the new club season on Oct. 16. He will assume the title of chairman emeritus, according to Augusta National.

An Augusta National member since 1997, Payne was instrumental in bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1996 and served as head of the Atlanta Olympic Committee.

As Augusta's chairman, Payne welcomed Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore as the club's first female members in 2012, followed by Virginia Rometty in 2014, after the club had been under pressure for more than a decade to do so.

Payne also oversaw the creation of three significant grow-the-game initiatives: the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the Latin America Amateur Championship and the Drive, Chip & Putt Contest that takes place each year on the Sunday prior to the Masters at Augusta National.

These events were a departure from the way Augusta National previously conducted business by staying behind the scenes aside from Masters week. Staging tournaments in Asia and South America -- and getting the players there -- is a huge financial undertaking, even with help from the R&A and USGA.

"We have an obligation," Payne said during a 2015 interview with ESPN. "The Masters and Augusta National itself resonates around the world so profoundly that when you are giving money to all these good causes, you are not really giving a piece of yourself.

"But when you give opportunity to these kids, to me it has a better, long-term capability of really getting them committed to the game. We have the time, we have the resources and we believe it to be completely consistent with what our founders believe."

Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and Augusta member, posted a tribute to Payne on his website Wednesday, saying, in part, "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."

Nicklaus said selecting Ridley as the successor "will only serve to maintain, if not enhance, the work Billy has accomplished."

Perhaps Payne's most significant undertaking during his tenure in terms of the Masters and the club was the significant number of land purchases around the property that have led to more hospitality areas and spectator viewing.

Berckmans Place, a 100,000-square foot hospitality area behind the fifth fairway that opened in 2013, was made possible because the club bought land -- including homes -- to create space. The facility has five restaurants, three replica Augusta National greens and a merchandise venue that sells items not found in other locations on the course. The venue requires a special weeklong badge for admittance.

Prior to the 2017 Masters, Augusta National embarked on an ambitious project to construct a state-of-the-art media center, allowing the club to raze the old structure that had existed since 1990 near the first tee and provide more space for concessions and merchandise sales.

Such is Augusta National's power that when it became known that the city of Augusta was willing to move Berckmans Road farther north -- allowing the club to have more room for a spectator entrance and the media center -- and away from club property, Payne acknowledged that the club was in favor and would even advance funds in the form of a loan to get the job done.

Just last month, it was reported that Augusta National had completed a land purchase agreement with neighboring Augusta Country Club that will give Augusta National more room around its perimeter while also allowing for the possible lengthening of the par-5 13th hole.

"It has been my pleasure to work with Billy Payne during his tenure as Chairman," ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement. "He has wonderfully maintained the pre-eminence of the world's greatest golf tournament while innovating effectively in digital media and expanding the footprint of the tournament, the club and the game of golf both literally and figuratively in Augusta and throughout the world. I wish him well-earned satisfaction in his accomplishments and pleasure in his deserved retirement.

"Billy's last accomplishment was leaving the club in the capable hands of Fred Ridley. We look forward to working with Fred for many years."

Surprisingly, no significant changes to the golf course occurred under Payne.

Perhaps that will be left to Ridley, 65, a former University of Florida golfer who beat Keith Fergus in the 36-hole final of the 1975 U.S. Amateur -- and defeated Curtis Strange and Andy Bean along the way.

Ridley never turned pro and is a Tampa, Florida, attorney. He served in various roles with the USGA, including as president in 2004-05.

Ridley has been a member of the Masters rules and competitions committee and was at the forefront of a controversial ruling in 2013 when Tiger Woods committed a rules violation that went undetected until after he signed his scorecard -- but was allowed to remain in the tournament due to Augusta National's disclosure that it dismissed the possibility of a rules infraction and did not tell Woods.

Ridley also played in the Masters three times (1976-78) and becomes the first chairman to have played in the tournament. He missed the cut in all three appearances.

Since the club's opening in 1933, the chairman has been afforded authoritarian power and is the only person authorized to speak on club matters.

Payne, the sixth chairman in club history, joins Hord Hardin (1980-91) as the longest-tenured Augusta chairmen outside of club co-founder (along with Bobby Jones) Clifford Roberts, who served from the club's opening until 1976.