There are several Halls of Fame, and Georgia is usually well-represented. I mean, even Lars Tate is in the Citrus Bowl Hall of Fame. But we now have the first Georgia Bulldog elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame - and he didn’t even play golf.
William Porter Payne was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame Monday evening, in a ceremony held in conjunction with the US Open to be played this week. His leadership as Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club from 2006-2017 has been lauded as visionary and instrumental in growing the game. And as he acknowledged in his acceptance speech, Payne was elected because of the efforts of Augusta National and the Masters (more on that in a moment).
Many of you know Billy Payne - whether that be from his work bringing the 1996 Summer Olympic Games to Atlanta, creating free dormitories for Georgia State, maybe as Chairman of Augusta National, or simply because he wrote a fat check that finally completed the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility on UGA’s campus last year. Both Billy and his father Porter played football at Georgia, and Billy went on to get his law degree in his hometown of Athens. Billy then came out of nowhere to lead the successful bid for the ‘96 Games. Now in the national spotlight, he accepted an invitation to join Augusta National as a member in 1997, and was elected Chairman in 2006.
Augusta National holds the Masters tournament each spring, which is run by an internal tournament committee. The club itself has gone to extraordinary lengths to gain control and protect the Masters brand, but not just to see more profit. They leveraged the strength of the Masters brand to give clout to several international amateur tournaments (seeking to grow golf outside the US), created a Drive, Chip, & Putt competition that gains steam every year (seeking to grow the game among this nation’s youth), and have just executed a very successful inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament (giving resources and infusing enthusiasm into young women’s golf). While the current Chairman Fred Ridley may get credit for the ANWA, it has Billy Payne’s thumbprints all over it.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club held virtually all the power in the golf world until after the World Wars, when the upstart United States Golf Association (USGA) began it’s own flex. Enter the PGA of America, then the PGA Tour, and golf sometimes seemed like boxing federations with no one set of rules and no one playing nice with each other. Augusta National is the smallest of these five organizations, but has deep pockets and wields as much power and sway as any of them. A lot of this is attributed to Billy Payne.
This year’s class also included famed instructor Peggy Kirk Bell, former LPGA player Jan Stephenson, motivational speaker Dennis Walters, and former player Retief Goosen.
So a football player turned lawyer achieved the dream of entry to the Hall of Fame. Just maybe not in the sport he dreamed of as a young boy growing up in Athens. Which is why we can say, as always...