The sport of golf goes all the way back to Medieval Europe, in 1400s Scotland. Yet, despite those ancient roots, the game continues to grow like bermuda.
A couple years ago, World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona noted that 24 million Americans alone played 465 million rounds a year at some 15,200 courses. And some of the sport’s biggest growth is international.
How in the world could one person, outside of a Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth, possibly make a noticeable difference in the enormous, expanding world of golf?
Billy Payne sure has, and then some.
The immediate past-chairman of Augusta National Golf Club has left a giant’s footprint in a gigantic game. And because of that, Payne is being honored in April with the Golf Writers Association of America William D. Richardson Award for outstanding contributions to golf.
He will accept it at a dinner here, appropriately enough, during Masters Week.
The award could not be more fitting or deserved.
Payne was an exemplary steward of Augusta National and the Masters, overseeing many enhancements in both the golfers’ and patrons’ experience, and always with an eye toward the integrity and enjoyment of the game. But he didn’t stop there.
Inspired by the example he observed in Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts — both past winners of the same Richardson award — Payne made it a point to always look for opportunities to grow the sport both globally and generationally.
Payne’s leadership and enthusiasm and, frankly, his abiding love for both the game of golf and for young people were in large part responsible for the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur — and, of course, the instantly popular Drive, Chip and Putt Championship that now kicks off Masters week each year.
If the commissioner of football or baseball or basketball had overseen such broad and rapid growth in their sport, they’d be legends.
Billy Payne arguably lays claim to that mantle.