Billy Payne will step down as head of Augusta National

Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National, has announced he’ll be stepping down from his perch atop the kingdom of green jackets.

Payne took over leadership duties at the famed home of the Masters in 2006, following the departure of former chairman Hootie Johnson. It was under Johnson that Augusta National feuded most openly with women’s groups about the club’s all-male policy, and it was under Payne that the club finally relaxed that policy, admitting its first two female members in 2012.

Payne had achieved fame in Georgia for chairing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Under his leadership at Augusta, the Masters broadened its international reach, underwriting amateur competitions in Asia and Latin America and offering a berth in the Masters to the winner of each. Payne also oversaw an increase in high-profile sponsorships and recognition for the club, including global sponsorships with Mercedes-Benz and Rolex, and the creation of a video-game version of the course with EA Sports. (Cell phones, of course, remain forbidden at Augusta. Payne had no intention of changing that.)

“The privilege I experienced serving as chairman of Augusta National and the Masters was far greater than I could have ever imagined,” Payne said in a statement. “Just as nothing can prepare you for the unique responsibilities and important decisions that come with this position, it is equally impossible to anticipate the many joys and, most importantly, the wonderful friendships that are the ultimate reward of service.”

And since Augusta leaves nothing to chance or guesswork, there’s already a succession plan in place. Former USGA president Fred Ridley, who also chaired the Masters Competition Committee, will take over as chairman of Augusta National.

Billy Payne will be stepping down as chairman of Augusta National. (AP)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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