Gene Sapakoff is a columnist and College Sports Editor at The Post and Courier.

Masters Golf

A flag blows in the wind on the 18th green during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday in Augusta.

AUGUSTA — Someone asked about the prize almost as soon as new Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley revealed a concept as beautiful as the 1,600 azaleas that line Rae’s Creek along the fabled 13th hole.

Will the winner of the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship get a green jacket?

No, Ridley said Wednesday. But the trophy will be “very distinctive” and “we think it will be very well received and the winner is going to be very excited to receive it.”

Do you know what it is yet?

“We don’t know yet,” Ridley said. “We’ve got to work on that. But I can assure you it will be very, very nice.”

Of course, it will. This is Augusta, where a bug once wandered onto the property but was immediately dispatched to Aiken and extreme thought went into the green design of a pimento cheese sandwich bag.

But the powerful symbolism is in the message, not the material. What green-jacketed folks did Wednesday was give women’s golf a boost at just the right time, as momentum might be trending up from the very bottom. While recreational golf participation over the last decade looks mostly flat, LPGA girls’ golf programs are making strides.

The chance for young amateurs to play Augusta National can grow into a magnet for developing talent.

Buy your daughter a kid-sized club and let her hack away in the backyard.

Just remember, every broken window is another step in that journey to Washington Road.

Oh, the irony. Just as Augusta National is struggling with keeping its golf course up to challenges that come with a fit generation of players swinging high-tech clubs, those same equipment advances can add extra joy for a young girl taking up the game in pursuit of Masters-like glory.

It’s not a full 36 holes; the first two rounds of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship will be played at Champions Retreat Golf Club in suburban Evans, Ga.

But the 30-player final round on Saturday is likely to become a thing. Ridley said he expected to return to his office from his Wednesday press conference and find messages from TV networks eager to get involved.

Condi Rice: ‘Wonderful’

Condoleezza Rice knows a thing or several about sports. The former Secretary of State was on the College Football Playoff committee, is chairing a committee looking into college basketball reform and was wearing her green jacket Wednesday along with the other Augusta National members.

“It’s going to be wonderful for the women’s game,” Rice said of the initiative. “And it’s great for Augusta.”

That was the original idea, in that order.

Isn’t progress fun?

“Golf’s a great game,” Ridley said. “Hopefully, it’s color-blind, it’s blind to gender. And I think golf’s in a good place right now. I’ve never been part of a week — and this is my 42nd Masters — where there’s been any more excitement and I hope today we’ve added a little bit of excitement to this week.”

Daughter driven

Augusta National under the dynamic Billy Payne, Ridley’s predecessor, did a swell job of sowing golf interest with international tournaments and getting kids on the Augusta fairways with a Drive, Chip & Putt competition.

Clearly, this is the new guy’s baby. A commercial real estate attorney who works in Tampa, the 65-year-old Ridley began pushing the women’s amateur concept at senior staff meetings in October with the hopes of being able to make the announcement Wednesday at his first State of the Masters address.

“I happen to have three daughters and they all love golf,” Ridley said. “They’re not really very good players but they all love the game. And I know they’re going to be really excited about this.”

They will surely like the very, very nice Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship trophy, too.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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