Thursday, December 06, 2007

Payne opens Masters to next generation

When Augusta National chairman Billy Payne says he wants to inspire the next generation of golfers, he has a nice source of inspiration -- the Masters Tournament.

Payne and the club announced Thursday that beginning next April, accredited patrons will be allowed to bring a youngster between the ages of 8 and 16 to the Masters tournament rounds for free.

That doesn't mean if you're using someone's Masters credential for a day that you can bring your son or daughter. Only the person whose name is on the badge application can bring one child with them each day and the tournament will have a way of verifying who the badges belong to.

So, no, there won't be 25,000 kids roaming the property during the tournament.

Still, it's another nice touch by Payne, who has made so many good moves in his still-young tenure as club chairman. The intent, Payne said in a statement, is to expose youngsters to golf and the Masters. There's no better way than letting them see it in person.

Payne has been aggressive in his efforts to bring golf to more people, particularly to young people and the international audience. He sees it as a way to follow through on the vision of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, whose spirits still guide the club.

As part of that initiative, the popular par-3 tournament played on Wednesdays before the tournament begins will be televised by ESPN, the new cable partner for the Masters. The telecast will air from 3 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and give viewers a sense of the fun that has made the par-3 event an integral part of the Masters experience.

"These initiatives are important first steps and a great kickoff to our ongoing mission of growing the game," Payne said.