Former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson.
Hootie Johnson, who served as chairman of the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club for eight years, passed away on Friday at the age of 86. Current Masters and Augusta National chairman Billy Payne released a statement about Johnson’s death today.
Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament are today mourning the loss of William Woodward “Hootie” Johnson, our beloved Chairman Emeritus. Hootie passed away this morning at the age of 86, leaving behind a legacy of exceptional service to our Club, our Tournament and the game of golf.
Johnson, who grew up in nearby South Carolina and played football at the University of South Carolina, was one of just six chairmen in the history of the club. He served from 1998 to 2006, preceding Payne.
- Clifford Roberts (1931-1976)
- William Lane (19760-1980)
- Hord Hardin (1980-1991)
- Jackson T. Stephens (1991-1998)
- Hootie Johnson (1998-2006)
- Billy Payne (2006-present)
Johnson presided over wide-sweeping changes to the Augusta National Golf Club after Tiger Woods’ historic 1997 win there — “Tiger-proofing” was its informal name.
“He boldly directed numerous course improvements to ensure that Augusta National would always represent the very finest test of golf,” said Payne. “Simultaneously, Hootie expanded television coverage of the Masters, improved qualification standards for invitation to the Tournament and reopened the series badge waiting list for the first time in more than 20 years. Many of these measures brought more people than ever closer to the Masters and inspired us to continue exploring ways to welcome people all over the world to the Tournament and the game of golf.”
Johnson was also the chairman as the club made efforts to protect its men-only membership stance in the early 2000s. Johnson stood firm, and women were not allowed as members until 2012 under Payne. Johnson, however, celebrated the move.
Despite their different leadership styles, though, Payne had immense respect for Johnson.
“At all times, Hootie selflessly served as my personal mentor on matters here at Augusta National and the Masters, as well as in business and life,” said Payne in a statement. “He impressed upon me his obsession for constant improvement and a love for Augusta National that will forever remain unmatched. As the current Chairman, I owe an immeasurable debt to Hootie Johnson, and I will thank him every day for what he has meant to me personally as well as to the legacy of Augusta National and the Masters.”