Augusta's new leader carries on old stance

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Billy Payne expresses no interest in meeting with Martha Burk.

The new chairman at Augusta National took a familiar stand Monday on the lack of female members, saying it would be a decision for club members and there was no need to have any dialogue with Martha Burk.

"Our membership matters are all decided by club members, and we have no specific timetable to address that issue," Billy Payne said in a conference call, his first comments since he was elected last week to replace Hootie Johnson.

Burk led the campaign for female members at the home of the Masters when she was head of the National Council of Women's Organizations. She had hoped to open a dialogue with Payne when he takes over May 21, and said that she sent him a letter over the weekend asking for a meeting.

Payne showed no interest.

"I think I'm aware of her positions on all issues as they relate to Augusta," Payne said. "I don't see that any dialogue would be meaningful or helpful."

Burk said she was disappointed, but not surprised. Augusta National members closed ranks behind Johnson over the male-only membership, even as Johnson eliminated television sponsors for two years at the Masters. She said it sounded as though Payne was "channeling Hootie."

"I thought it would be an opportunity for the club to move forward, and it does not sound like that's the case," Burk said. "He's had several years to speak out as a member and clearly did not have the courage to do so. As the chair, I thought his backbone might be a little stiffer."

Payne also stuck closely to Johnson's position on the possibility of a tournament golf ball for the Masters if he felt the governing bodies were not doing enough to slow gains in distance.

"While we would hope that a resolution would come as quickly as possible through the normal process, we would not take that option off the table," Payne said.

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