Popularity of Masters Par 3 aces out honorary invitees

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) The popularity of the Masters Par 3 Contest wound up costing the honorary invitees a chance to play.

The select group includes those who have won any of golf's other three major championships or the U.S. or British amateurs, but not the Masters.

While still invited to Augusta National, the honorary invitees were told this year to skip the Par 3 Contest as well as practice rounds leading up to the tournament.

The logistics of trying to complete the contest in the time allotted with the growing numbers was just too much.

Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne explained the decision Wednesday. He said more tournament players and former Masters champions wanted to play the Par 3 Contest, ''stretching out the required time to complete it to a point that it became exceedingly difficult to do it.''

It wasn't really an issue this year. The Par 3 was called off when severe storms moved through the area, shutting down the course early in the afternoon.

But the event has increasingly become one of the highlights of the week, televised by ESPN and featuring everyone from former greats such as six-time masters champion Jack Nicklaus to the young children of players, bounding around the nine-hole course in their white caddy coveralls.

In recent years, some of the late starters have barely finished before sundown.

''We call it a two-for-one day'' for the fans, Payne said. ''They get to watch the players practice in the morning typically, and then they get to enjoy the Par 3 in the afternoon. And we think that's a great combination, and thought extending the tee times and the length of the Par 3 any further was not the right way to go.''

He stressed that the honorary invitees still received all their other perks.

''They are still welcome invitees to Augusta, receiving tickets for them and their family and food and beverage and all the other things that it's a pleasure to give them to recognize their contributions to the game,'' Payne said.

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OLYMPIC GOLF: When Billy Payne led Atlanta's winning bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics, he proposed adding golf to the program - to be played at Augusta National.

The idea never went anywhere, largely because of the club's restrictive membership policies at the time.

Golf finally returned to the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro, but the thought of staging the Olympics at the home of the Masters came up again Wednesday.

Payne, during his annual news conference as the club's chairman, was asked for his assessment of the Rio tournament and, in an addendum that clearly caught him off guard, whether Atlanta should make another bid for the Summer Games so golf could be held at Augusta National.

''Here? Like Augusta here?'' he asked.

When told that was indeed the question, Payne quipped, ''I have a lot of leeway on this answer since I surely won't be chairman then.''

He won't be leading another Olympic bid, either, but noted that Atlanta is opening two new stadiums this year.

''We are building sports facilities at a rapid rate,'' Payne said. ''We certainly have not lost our capability of doing it, and so I remain enthusiastic about the games coming back to the United States.''

There has been no serious discussion about Atlanta making another Olympic bid, especially since the city was roundly criticized for organizational problems and over-commercializing the privately financed games in 1996.

The United States has not hosted the Summer Olympics since then, but Los Angeles is vying with Paris for the 2024 Games that will be awarded this year.

''We have a candidate now I'm very excited about in Los Angeles, so we'll see what happens,'' Payne said.

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CHAMPIONS DIGS: The Masters reserves a special upstairs locker room for those who've won the green jacket.

That provides a real sense of motivation to those who are stuck downstairs.

Adam Scott remembers good friend Trevor Immelman moving on up after his victory in 2008.

''I didn't see him all week and was incredibly jealous and envious of him sitting upstairs with everyone,'' Scott said.

After the Aussie finally broke through with his first major title in 2013, he earned a spot in the champions' locker room.

But he hasn't forgotten what life was like in his previous digs.

''There's definitely some awareness of the guys who are downstairs in the locker room as to what's going on upstairs,'' Scott said. ''I don't feel like I got treated any different from them. But I certainly felt a sense of awe toward that upstairs locker room.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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