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Charlotte golfers help Make-A-Wish

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A self-proclaimed group of “heathens” will play golf to raise money for a good cause at 9 a.m. March 25 at the Providence Country Club, 6001 Providence Country Club Drive.

The second annual Heathens Charity Golf Classic will raise money for Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina, said tournament chairman Bill Thompson.

Thompson said he hopes to field 33 foursomes and raise $50,000.

“We call it ‘For The Kids,’ ” said Thompson. “We contribute 100 percent of what we collect to the charity. Since we started collecting money, we have granted 14 wishes.”

Thompson organizes the golf tournament, while John Reilly is the “commissioner” of the group.

“We started about five years ago, when a group of us couldn’t play golf together on Saturdays because we were involved in coaching baseball for our kids,” said Reilly.

“Sundays was our only free day for golf. We were out on the golf course early in the morning, watching people drive to church. We started calling ourselves the ‘Heathens,’ and decided we could do something good during the time we played golf.”

Reilly said members of the group decided to contribute $10 or $20 each time they played golf or participated in a tournament. As membership grew, to 125 so far, so did the amount of money it collected.

In the first year, the group raised $13,000 in just 30 days, followed by $26,000 the next year.

Thompson stepped in to help the group decide how to donate the money. He advocated for Make-A-Wish, a charity he knew and trusted.

“We were able to raise the money the first few years without much effort,” said Reilly, “so we decided to take it up a notch and do something more.”

Two years ago the group decided to host a golf tournament to raise money. It turned to Thompson again, who had learned how to organize golf tournaments through helping his father put together charity tournaments in New York.

In last year’s inaugural tournament, the group raised $31,000 for Make-A-Wish, said Thompson.

“It’s vital to be able to count on partners like the Heathens,” said Amy Brindley, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina, which serves Charlotte in Mecklenburg County and 50 other counties. “We use these funds raised locally to grant the wishes of children in our area.”

This year’s tournament will be bigger – attracting golfers from outside the region – and some local celebrities. Former Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad is expected to attend, said Thompson. At last year’s tournament, Stuart Stout, father of Hope Stout, a Matthews girl who passed away from cancer when she was 12, addressed the group.

Lunch will be catered by Smoke & Go, a food truck operated by Sam and Marvin Young. Entertainment will include music and massages on the course.

“The beauty of it is nobody cares about the prizes. People play because they care about the charity,” said Thompson. “But our champions do get a ‘Heathens’ flag.”

Carol Gifford is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Carol? Email her at bloomgiff@comcast.net.
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