(Reuters) - Billy Payne, the man who opened the doors of Augusta National to women members, announced on Wednesday he would retire as chairman of one of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs and home of the U.S. Masters.
Payne, who took over from Hootie Johnson in May 2006 and served as chairman for 11 years, will step down on Oct. 16.
He will be succeeded by Fred Ridley, who currently serves the Masters Tournament as Chairman of the Competition Committees.
Ridley will become the seventh chairman of Augusta National.
“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.
“This honor, however, is too great for one person to claim as their own for too long a period of time.
“I retire knowing it is simply the right thing to do -– and at the right moment –- to open the door and invite someone new to be called upon to lead, bring forth new ideas and craft a new vision that will honor our Founders and serve the game of golf for many years to come.”
Payne, who brought the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta before taking over the job as Augusta National chairman, oversaw tremendous changes at what is perhaps the world’s most exclusive golf club but none more significant than welcoming women.
Johnson refused to relent under mounting pressure and protest to open Augusta National to women and the club remained an exclusive male domain until Payne opened the doors in 2012.
Augusta National does not discuss its membership but current women members include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Las Vegas; Editing by Clare Fallon