When members at Augusta National want something done it gets done in a jiffy. Debris left by fierce storms is cleared away in a blink. Parking lots are turned into a seamlessly integrated state-of-the-art practice facility from one Masters to the next. Knowing nods and laughs abounded when chairman Billy Payne said that a significantly storm-damaged restroom facility would be repaired by the end of the day. Anyone familiar with operations at Augusta National knew he was speaking the truth.
While often quick to react when it comes to golf and the Masters, members at Augusta National can also dig their heels deep. The absence of a female member at the club first drew sustained criticism in 2002 and, after another 10 years of the status quo, the issue has returned to the forefront.
Payne was repeatedly questioned about club membership policy during Wednesday's annual pre-Masters press conference. He was asked how he would explain it to his granddaughter. He was asked how we should explain it to our granddaughters. He was asked how the club can reconcile its declared mission to grow the game of golf globally with its male-only membership.
Payne's subsequent responses were consistent with his first response: "Well, as has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members, and that statement remains accurate and remains my statement."
The topic has returned with zeal now that a woman, Ginni Rometty, has been installed as chief executive officer at International Business Machines. The last four IBM CEOs have been extended Augusta memberships, and IBM is one of the Masters' three corporate sponsors. Martha Burk, the activist who spearheaded the 2002-03 protests against Augusta National, has said IBM is disrespecting its CEO if it sustains its sponsorship of the Masters.
Long hitters will have an added advantage in today's opening round. A strong, slow-moving thunderstorm dumped 1.4 inches of rain on the course late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. Trees toppled. Bunkers flooded. Rae's Creek overflowed in a section away from the golf course.
As if that wasn't enough, storms moved through again on Wednesday afternoon, bringing an early end to the Par-3 Contest. Augusta National, which already puts a premium on driving, will be playing longer than usual.
"Clearly the golf course will not be as firm and fast as it would otherwise be," said Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee. "We are very confident that we will have comparable tournament-speed greens with our sub-air system. Admittedly we won't have the firmness, but we think that we have looked at a setup that takes all of that into consideration, as we always do with weather considerations. And we think it's going to be a good setup for [today] and we will just keep our fingers crossed that we get the round in."
There's a 60 percent chance of rain today atop of what has already fallen. The Masters prides itself on tradition, but officials might have no choice but to acquiesce and allow for lift, clean and place in the opening round.
"We surely would not want to have to do that," Payne said. "That would be a decision very difficult to make. However, we are also bright enough to know that weather conditions can have an impact on that, and possibly cause us to change our minds on that issue."
Three-time Masters champ Gary Player will join four-time champion Arnold Palmer and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus in hitting this morning's ceremonial tee shots. It's the first go-round for Player, who played in a record 52 Masters through 2009.
Padraig Harrington and Jonathan Byrd were declared co-winners of the Par-3 Contest when play was called about 4 p.m. Wednesday. Both shot 5-under on the nine-hole course. No par-3 champion has gone on to win the Masters the same year.
There were two aces in the abbreviated round, by Mark Wilson and Thomas Bjorn.