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Payne pays visit to Forest Heights
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Augusta National Golf Course Chair Billy Payne, center, and good friend Bruce Yawn, of Snooky's fame, head out to the course together after kicking off the Third Annual Wells Fargo Golf Classic at Forest Heights Country Club Thursday to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Golfers from around the area converged on Forest Heights Country Club Thursday afternoon for a fundraiser that netted a donation of $31,750 to the Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch.
    A total of 17 four-man teams participated in the scramble. In each of the three tournaments that have been held, a new community member has been honored for their individual contributions toward the Boys and Girls Club. This year, Bruce Yawn was recognized for his involvement — spanning over a decade — in helping the local club to grow and prosper.
    To help celebrate Yawn, the star power was cranked up.
    Introducing Yawn to the event participants was his former football teammate at UGA, Billy Payne. Of course, Payne is more commonly known as the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the perennial face of The Masters Tournament.
    “I met Bruce almost 50 years ago,” Payne said. “Back then, we were playing against each other in a high school all-star game. But we became teammates and best friends.”
    Just as Payne and Yawn are no strangers, Payne is similarly linked to supporting the Boys and Girls Club.
    Payne was the driving force behind Atlanta’s bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games. When the games turned a profit, the decision was made to donate to a worthy cause.
    “Everyone was so concerned with losing money (on the Olympics),” Payne said. “As it turned out, we made about $50 million. We were very happy to be able to give that to the Boys and Girls Club to try and support what they do.”
    It’s clear that the club’s supporters are numerous and dedicated.
    Even with rain and wind in the forecast, players from Statesboro, Metter, Claxton, Savannah and other surrounding towns easily filled all available team slots. In addition to team registration fees, individual donations and corporate hole sponsorships helped the event to easily reach its goal.
    “The cause (for the event) is very dear to me,” Yawn said. “The Boys and Girls Club does such great work. It changes peoples’ lives. If we can help support that with this tournament, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do so.”
    In the past, proceeds from the event have improved facilities and educational tools at the Boys and Girls Club and have allowed continual increases in the amount of children the club’s resources can accommodate.
    Those will continue to be goals with each passing year, but this year’s donations are especially helpful as the club attempts to recover from a February fire that caused around $200,000 in damage.
    “We appreciate this so much each year,” Executive Director of the club Mike Jones said. “Given the circumstances, this year is even more special. We’re very thankful for everyone who continues to support us and we look forward to continuing to build our great organization.”
    With two of the central figures of the day sharing a friendship that dates back to their teenage years, it seems fitting that an organization aimed at benefitting kids was the main focus of the event. In addition to the money raised for the club, it was clear that one of the best moments of the day was two old friends able to reconnect.
    “I didn’t even know Billy was coming,” Yawn said “It was a great surprise for me. I’d like to spend more time with him, but I think he has another tournament he has to get to pretty soon.”