Sanford International reaches beyond the golf course

In two years, the tournament has given more than $250,000 to local charities

A young Sanford Children's Hospital patient fist-bumps a golfer at the first tee of the Sanford International golf tournament.

Earlier this summer, 10-year-old Ben Wieman was picked as Sanford Children’s ambassador for the Sanford International.

His three-year battle with cancer was real. So, too, was the help he got, in part via the fundraising efforts associated with the Sanford International presented by Cambria golf tournament.

When his mother Carrie Wieman addressed a crowd Sept. 8 at Minnehaha Country Club, she ended her talk like this: “I’m Carrie Wieman. I’m Ben’s mom and my son had cancer.”

“She attributes her son’s recovery to Sanford,” said Bobbie Tibbetts, Sanford Health Foundation president. “They’re so grateful for the care they received and understanding of the role of philanthropy in that journey.”

On Ben’s first day at the hospital, he told staff he was a big fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. By the time he was back from his blood draw, a Sanford child life specialist had decorated his room with professional wrestling characters.

“Carrie talked about how from the very first day they checked in  and throughout the three years of treatments, the Sanford patient care team went above and beyond,” Tibbetts said. “Much of the child life program is funded through philanthropy.”

Which brings us to the manner in which this PGA Tour Champions event brings the community and its causes together.

“The tournament is more than a golf competition amongst  some of the top golfers in the game,” Tibbetts said. “It’s about promoting wellness, sparking community involvement and economic impact — a big number in nearly $20 million a year.”

Birdies and giving back

Unlike any PGA Tour Champions tournament since March, the Sanford International this year included actual fans on the grounds watching the golfers in person.

Those fans were rooting for birdies, as were the golfers. Everyone likes birdies at a golf tournament, right? In this case, however, there was a little more to it.

The Sanford Health Foundation’s “Birdies Give Back” program incorporates charity giving with the performance of the golfers. If they do well, in other words, Foundation charities do well.

One-hundred percent of the money raised through the program is directed to the Sanford Foundation to impact children and families locally through Sanford Children’s and globally through the Sanford World Clinic.

Those interested in giving had the opportunity to pledge a one-time amount, or a per-birdie amount. Two years ago, tournament golfers cranked out 705 birdies. In 2019, that number was an uncannily similar 707.

This year, with 845 birdies, the Birdies Give Back program raised nearly $100,000 for kids and families Sanford serves worldwide.

“We wanted to create a more approachable way for people to become involved in charitable giving,” said Sanford Health executive vice president Micah Aberson. “The Birdies Give Back program marries the game of golf and charity in a way that allows all interested spectators and fans to make a difference in the lives of children. It channels the energy and excitement of golf and then weaves in philanthropy.”

Building a spirit of philanthropy

Donors had the option to download the tournament app or go online to pledge any amount, starting at one cent per birdie.

“We wanted to do something that invites people to take part in the philanthropic spirit of the tournament,” Tibbetts said. “It can help introduce kids and adults to the notion of charitable giving in a fun way.”

The program gave the tournament fundraising effort a boost before the golfers were even competing. In this case, it represented momentum that has been building since the tournament began. In the two years leading up to this year’s Sanford International, the tournament gave more than $250,000 to local charities.

Extending the charity

Two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North, the host of the Sanford International, has been part of Sanford Health leadership since well before the creation of the golf tournament. He has a unique perspective in that he’s very familiar with the fundraising capacity of professional golf tournaments but also has insight into the scope of Sanford’s charitable efforts.

“It’s been part of the drive of what we’re doing right from the start,” North said. “How do you expand what we’re doing? I’ve been on the Sanford International Board where I helped guide the development of clinics all over the world.”

The Sanford International fundraising effort involves more than just the dollars raised or how many birdies the golfers get. Overall, it is part of a greater attempt to highlight the philanthropic impact made on Sanford patients and families.

A not-so-embarrassing moment

On the afternoon of Sept. 12, Ben had the opportunity to ask questions of golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Tony Jacklin, Hale Irwin and North. The winners of this team competition — Jacklin and Irwin in this case — had the choice of donating $20,000 to the Sanford World Clinic or Sanford Children’s, or evenly split between both initiatives.

The winning duo directed the prize to support Sanford Children’s, primarily due to meeting Ben and understanding the material impact fundraising has had on him and his family.

At one point Ben asked the group to describe their most embarrassing moments. Both Nicklaus and North talked about ripping their pants on the course, forcing them to wear rain gear for the rest of the round.

Then Irwin addressed Ben directly.

“Let’s put it this way,” Irwin said. “If you’re really trying to hit a good shot, you shouldn’t be embarrassed because you’re trying. Sometimes in golf it just doesn’t work out. If you’re trying your best, you should never be embarrassed. Always try your best.”

And a very healthy 10-year-old smiled back when he heard that. This was what it was all about.

“After hearing Ben’s story through the involvement of this tournament, people better understand that if they give a gift through the Birdies Give Back program, it’s impacting patients and families just like Ben,” Tibbetts said. “There is so much gratitude from the Wieman family because the dollars do make a difference.”

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Posted In Cancer, Children's, Community, Foundation, Golf, Innovations, Sanford International, Specialty Care, World Clinic

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