Sanford International makes an impact on community

Pro golf tournament provides economic and charitable benefits

Avery Hill, 4, wears a personalized golf bib while walking on the green at the Sanford International golf tournament. She represents Children's Miracle Network, one of the charities benefiting from the golf tournament's community impact efforts.
Avery Hill, 4, wears a personalized golf bib while walking on the green at the Sanford International golf tournament. She represents Children's Miracle Network, one of the charities benefiting from the golf tournament's community impact efforts.

Sanford Health and presenting sponsor Cambria brought the Sanford International into existence in 2018. This was a new kind of event. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was going places it had not been.

This PGA Tour Champions tournament brought some of the game’s iconic names with it as well as millions of dollars in economic activity. It included a beautiful golf course and the support of thousands. This was in addition to a national television audience.

The tournament introduced Sioux Falls to people unfamiliar with this part of the country. It was big-time golf. In this case, it brought golf star power together with the charms of a Midwestern metropolitan area on the rise.

“The Sanford International has filled a big gap in the community,” Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken said. Earlier, he’d proclaimed Saturday as “Jack Nicklaus Day” in Sioux Falls with the golfing great standing right next to him.

He continued: “The attendance here and the excitement around this and the license plates I see in the parking lot from all over the place tells you this has been a big draw for our region.”

Sanford International more than golf

In summary, it was a competition. Rocco Mediate earned $270,000 for winning the 2019 Sanford International. His birdies on the last two holes secured the win. Similarly, the event itself continued on its own win streak.

“This puts Sioux Falls on the map and does a lot for South Dakota,” said Hollis Cavner, the CEO of Pro Links Sports, the company that operates the tournament.

“The economic impact in this city is tremendous — $15 million to $20 million for the week comes with this event. It’s really turning into and going to become a premier event on the Champions Tour, if not the premier event. As far as I’m concerned, this is going to be the benchmark for how an event should be handled in the city and how a city should embrace it.”

Part of something good

Jets roared overhead in the moments before the start of the Sanford International. Earlier, Sanford Health executive vice president Micah Aberson talked about Avery Hill.

Avery is not a golfer and not a sponsor. She is a 4-year-old who was born premature and lives with cerebral palsy. Born at Sanford Children’s Hospital, she served as an example. This PGA Tour Champions golf tournament, Aberson told those gathered around the tee, is about more than golf. It raises money for the Sanford Health Foundation.

Sanford Children’s is just one of the beneficiaries of the Sanford Health Foundation. The fundraising arm of Sanford Health also serves Sanford World Clinic and supports everything involved in the daily work of healing patients.

“This is about Avery,” Aberson told the crowd. “She’s the real hero. Everything we raise this week goes toward our agenda — the Sanford Health Foundation. It supports kids like Avery locally and around the world.”

Fernson Brewing Company sales manager Kenny Hartzell was listening from the crowd. He is part of the Sioux Falls business that crafted Wedge, a Kölsch-style ale brewed with lemondrop hops, created expressly for the Sanford International.

“Micah talked about how this tournament is for everybody,” Hartzell said. “He said this tournament celebrates so much more than just golf. It celebrates the community coming together. It celebrates the kids we’re always thinking about. Sanford plays a big role in a lot of people’s lives. To be part of that is absolutely fantastic.”

From the ground floor

With a history of community engagement well-established, Sanford Health announced in June of 2017 that a PGA Tour Champions event was going to be at Minnehaha Country Club in the fall of 2018.

A lot of people were not exactly sure what putting on a nationally televised professional golf tournament was all about. They got involved anyway.

In the two years since then, they’ve come to know a lot more.

“It was a heavy lift to get started initially,” Aberson said. “The community responded extremely well to the event. It started with sponsors signing up and Cambria signed up right away. They sat with us when we made the announcement. To have a sponsor like that to be as engaged as they are has been unbelievable. And then to see the support to line up behind it from all of our other sponsors — those were early signals for us that this was going to be a positive event.”

Sanford International earns respect

Organizational progress continued. Community engagement advanced. Sioux Falls people who did not have a prior event to compare to the Sanford International learned on the run what it was all about. Several others, though, now in for the long haul, knew all about this business.

Cavner was one of those people. His Pro Links Sports is involved in a total of seven tournaments on the PGA Tour Champions and PGA Tour. He is also credited with helping the Twin Cities land the 3M Open, a PGA Tour event played for the first time this past summer.

“For an event in the second year, we are so far ahead of where we thought we could be,” Cavner said. “We set record sales. Our team here does a great job and the people of Sioux Falls support this event like nowhere else.”

On Saturday afternoon, the EMC Legends Series raised $95,000 in one nine-hole event that included tournament host Andy North, Hale Irwin, Dave Stockton and Nicklaus, back for the second year in a row along with his wife Barbara.

Earlier, Nicklaus explained that he and his wife vowed more than 50 years ago, while their daughter was sitting in an oxygen tent in intensive care, to help children.

It is why he was in Sioux Falls last week getting a day named after him. Just as the call to become involved in the tournament attracted sponsors, volunteers and spectators, it attracted the greatest player who ever lived.

A vow to help children

“I would never have met Denny Sanford or spent time with Denny Sanford if it wasn’t for my wife and what she wanted to do with getting involved with health care,” Nicklaus said.

“I get to be involved with people like Denny Sanford, who is a wonderful guy. We see the things they do. I see what happens with these kids. It’s a lot more important to see what happens with them than it is to stand over a four-foot putt. Four-foot putts are very unimportant when it comes to what you’re seeing with kids. It has changed my whole outlook on what I do and how I do things.”

Normally, Stensland Family Farms and Jack Nicklaus would not be involved in the same pursuits. In this case, though, with the target a community and its welfare, unlikely partnerships emerge. The Stensland people, fifth-generation farmers who built their own creamery in 2015 and have retail stores in Sioux Falls and Larchwood, Iowa, invented a new ice cream for the occasion.

Sanford Swirl was available at the tournament and is also sold at Lewis Drug. It includes a lemon cheesecake base, and weaves in vanilla cookie crumbles, graham crackers and blue raspberry swirl. Proceeds go to the Children’s Miracle Network.

To begin with, the connection to children extends to a connection to families, said Eric Mebius, in charge of business development for the family-owned operation. And families connect to ice cream. It’s not a direct route, exactly, but it makes perfect sense for Stensland Family Farms.

“Our company is all about family values and community,” Mebius said. “It was an opportunity for us to gain some exposure in the community and to give back.”

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Posted In Community, Golf, Sanford International

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