In early April, did the face of golf change without anyone noticing as 88 proud, beaming faces were milling around the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club anxiously awaiting the competition called the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship to get underway?
The contestants were children from all over North America who had earned the honour of representing various parts of the continent in several age groups.
Accompanied by one or both parents, aspiring competitors were soaking up the lore, the history, the traditions and civility of the genteel society that hosts the Masters.
Not only were they absorbing the hallowed atmosphere by their very presence on the grounds, they were actually hitting golf balls on the practice range, pitching to the practice greens and putting practice greens.
The whole event was televised on national TV. Talk about an incentive to find out more about this “thing” called golf.
Much is made of growing the game and how a task of such epic proportions can be approached. Included in the mix are factors such as who should lead the charge, who should carry the costs and how should the problems be addressed?
In my opinion, the most monumental hurdle is the “who?” of leadership. Golf has a history of its administrative associations clambering for the top role. There’s also the nonchalant attitude of either “not in my backyard” or “I’ve got enough to do, ask someone else.”
Another issue is one of responsibility bred from personal interest and benefit.
Augusta National Golf Course was built by Bobby Jones so he could enjoy playing in privacy away from the media spotlight. Upon seeing the property for the first time, I was struck immediately with how infrequently the game is promoted as being a “vacation for a day.”
The peace, the serenity and the natural beauty seem to be a long way down the list of reasons to play but are very near the top of things you would miss if the game was played indoors.
Strangely, Augusta is one of the most private and protected properties in the world and yet, it is the most familiar courses in the world to every golfer. The members have embraced exposure through Mr. Billy Payne’s TV appearances, patriarchal image and Bing Crosby-like voice.
He exudes dignity.
Presenting the Master’s tournament and hosting the Drive, Chip and Putt contest are only two initiatives that have and will greatly influence golfers and non-golfers.
The committee has also helped develop two new championships, the Asian Amateur Championship and the Latin Amateur Championship.
These new events held in opposite ends of the world will go a long way to encouraging new golfers to take up the sport and offer an incentive to current players. Naturally, the fortunate victors will qualify to play at the Masters.
This is leadership.
A group consisting of the most influential, successful business people in the world arrives at the conclusion that they can have an impact on the future of golf.
They review their resources, determine a plan of action and then make an effective contribution. I find the actions of the members at Augusta National to be truly amazing!