AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's a tradition that the Masters chairman meets with golf writers Wednesday morning of tournament week to deliver a state of the Masters address and field questions. It's a mix of public relations, information, news and the occasional laugh. This morning was no exception as Billy Payne spoke with his usual aplomb.Tournament parking for spectators is an issue the club is proud of. Nearly 4,500 parking spots have been added west of the course across Berckmans Road, Payne said. The Masters has a novel goal. When Payne toured the pressroom Tuesday afternoon to shake hands and chat with writers, he told me he hoped the Masters would become the only major sporting event in the world to offer free parking to all of its fans. I told him owners of pro baseball and football teams would hear that and say, “Free? What are they thinking?” He laughed. But plentiful parking is a smart idea.In a related matter, a new practice range will be built on the area that was used for parking in past years. It will run adjacent to Washington Road, as opposed to the current setup, in which players hit toward towering nets that protect Washington Road. A second set of tees will be installed at the far end of the property near the water tower at the corner of Washington and Berckmans, Payne said, to accommodate more players in the event of a restarted round, when a full field of players would be looking to warm up at the same time. Chipping and pitching greens for shots up to 120 yards will be included in the new range.A couple of minor rules changes for patrons are also in effect this year. Spectator seats with arms are no longer allowed. Also, Payne said, smoking will no longer be permitted in any spectator grandstand or designated seating area on the course. It will be allowed on the rest of the course. (Augusta is still the South, after all, and not far from prime tobacco-growing country.)
Payne was asked the obligatory pre-tournament questions about the course, and whether it played too hard the last two years, robbing the tournament of its excitement.
“Well, no one wants to hear the roars and the excitement more than the members and the volunteers who put on the tournament,” Payne said. “And it is true that through the years, we have become accustomed to those. It is also true that, over the last couple of years, there have not been as many. I maintain that it has been a consequence of the difficult playing conditions, mostly attributable to the weather on the weekend days of the last several years."He continued: "You know, criticism hurts a little bit. It's like when you go to a piano recital of one of your granddaughters and you hear somebody say, ‘Boy, that's the worst kid I've ever seen.' It hurts your feelings. I am hoping that the consequence of good weather and further thinking about the course and the strategic approach to the course through time will eliminate most of that criticism.”Payne had one other vital item to report, this time regarding concessions.“In response to the literally hundreds of comments we had,” he said, “I'm proud to say that our barbecue sandwiches, so popular on the course, are now being served heated.”He got a big laugh with that, but it served as a reminder that no detail is too small for the Masters chairman to get right.Satellite images of Augusta National in our Course Finder | Interactive Map Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images