Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman, last night suggested that he will vote in favour of women being allowed finally to join the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
It is a potential change which Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, also believes has "strong support" from within the club. Women members have not been permitted in the 260 years since the club was founded.
However, a vote is scheduled to take place on September 18 and the first "yes" vote appears to have been confirmed, assuming that Payne travels to St Andrews to cast it in person. No postal or proxy votes will be accepted from any of the R&A's 2400 members.
Augusta National, which acts as the venue for the US Masters, admitted women members for the first time in October 2012, with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore the first women to wear the famous green jackets.
"As I've said before, we readily and joyously welcomed our lady members when that happened a couple years ago and it remains a very good decision on our part," said Payne as he held his traditional press conference ahead of the Masters. "We are so delighted, and I know I speak for everyone, that they are members. I'm proud to be a member of the R&A and I bet you can guess how I'm going to vote."
Payne also intimated that there are currently no definitive plans on what, if anything, to do with the 17th hole at Augusta since the famous Eisenhower Tree was removed in February due to storm damage. The tree was situated around 210 yards off the tee on the left-hand side of the hole and named after President Dwight D Eisenhower, who hit it so often that he asked for it to be cut down.
The hole was ranked as the sixth most difficult in 2013. "We are closely examining play and scoring on the hole this week and will make a decision
after careful observation and consideration," said Payne.
There will be attention on how the rules are applied this week too since last year's Masters was dominated by
two major regulation issues. First came the decision to penalise Tiger Woods for an incorrect drop in the second round, with 14-year-old amateur Guan Tianlang later penalised for slow play.
Woods seemed likely to
be disqualified after openly admitting he had dropped
his ball in the wrong place on the 15th, but only after he had signed his scorecard. However, he was eventually given
a two-shot penalty after the tournament rules committee effectively took the blame for failing to spot the infringement while Woods was still playing.
"The issue that you're addressing, I think that we made the right decision," said Payne of a decision taken at
a tournament at which rules officials do not follow groups around the course like in other major events. "I believe that the golf world has affirmed that.
"We have approximately
60 officials on the course, significantly more than any other tournament. We think
we do it pretty good with the familiarity they acquire for the specific holes; some with as many as six officials on it.
"We think the way we do it is pretty good, which is not to say that we would never consider a change. But we kind of like the way we do it now. I have read a lot that has been written about the subject and quotes from other players, but nobody's made a direct suggestion to
me about it."