Masters chief hopes ‘call to action’ is close in golf’s distance debate

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National chairman, is hoping a “call to action” is around the corner in golf’s long-running distance debate.

Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club. Pictured: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club. Pictured: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The R&A and USGA, the game’s two governing bodies, announced in August that the release of research topics related to the next phase of a combined Distance Insights Project was being delayed until next March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That announcement came around the time that Bryson DeChambeau was starting to gain even more distance after using the coronavirus lockdown to bulk up and the US Open champion is now the new centre of attention in the game."I've been reluctant thus far to make any major changes in regard to adding distance to the golf course," said Ridley, speaking at his annual pre-Masters press conference, of Augusta National."I think there are unintended consequences that come out of that; the scale and the scope of the hole changes when you add distance. Having said that, I think we are at a crossroads as it relates to this issue."We have always been very supportive of the governing bodies, we will continue to be supportive. We think it's good that the game of golf is governed by the USGA and the R&A, we think they are great stewards of the game."But I'm hopeful with the studies that have been ongoing for some time that we're coming close to a call to action."

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For last year’s Masters, the fifth hole was lengthened by 40 yards while there is also scope for the par-5 13th to be extended after the purchase of a piece of ground behind the existing tee from the adjacent Augusta Country Club."All I can say as it relates to our golf course is that we have options and we will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant," added Ridley."The 13th hole still provides a lot of drama, but its challenge is being diminished. We don't think that's good for the Masters, we don't think that's good for the game."But the issue's a lot larger than Augusta National and the Masters. We have options, we can make changes, but not every golf course can."

Asked about lengthening the 13th in time for the 2021 Masters in April, Ridley said: "I can say no to that because our season is under way and we would not make any changes in that time period. Beyond that I wouldn't speculate."This week’s event features 92 players, including six amateurs, from 23 countries. “We recognise the impact this year has had to everyone and their schedules, and we are grateful for all who are here to compete,” said the chairman. Meanwhile, Augusta National and its three partners - AT&T, Bank of America and IBM - are making a combined contribution of $10 million to the Augusta community. The money will help spur the redevelopment of two neighborhoods close to the course.“This contribution reaffirms our commitment to the City of Augusta, which has so generously supported us for decades,” said Ridley.

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