As a winner of 113 professional golf tournaments, Bernhard Langer has a keen sense for what makes a PGA TOUR Champions event something special.
In addition to being a genuine golfing legend – he’s 64 years old and No. 3 on the PGA TOUR Champions money list – Langer is also a member of the Sanford International Board and annually spends time with the staff at the Sanford POWER Golf Academy assessing his game.
He is definitely qualified, then, to take a big-picture look at the tournaments he plays in, especially those played in Sioux Falls.
“What we do here impacts a lot of people – the charity dollars will have a great impact on the area,” Langer said. “That’s unique. Many times we’ll have a sponsor where the product is sold mainly in other cities. Here, the sponsor employs thousands of people in this community. That’s a wonderful part of this tournament.”
When the Sanford International began in 2018, the whole idea of a nationally televised PGA event in the region was new territory. In the years since then, the accompanying unique investment of the community – both in terms of money aimed at charities and in interest in the event – has settled in as part of the brand.
“This is about much more than just golf,” said Bill Gassen, Sanford Health president and CEO. “It’s about our patients. It’s about our people and it’s about our community. The community of Sioux Falls has a rich history of giving. The spirit of philanthropy runs deep in this community.”
Charity a focus
The numbers confirm that. A year ago the Birdies Give Back program, with the help of enthusiastic donors, raised nearly $100,000 in its first year and pushed the 2020 total for local charities to more than $270,000. Since 2018, the tournament has raised more than $500,000 for local charities.
Overall, the presence of the Sanford International in Sioux Falls accounts for more than $20 million in economic impact in the region. It’s a total that emphatically demonstrates why the presence of the tournament is and will remain a centerpiece in the region.
“I’m grateful for the impact that we’re able to have here,” Gassen said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity we have to showcase an incredible city, an incredible organization and a wonderful community of people.”
In this case, community engagement has mirrored interest within the world of PGA TOUR Champions. Every year, the percentage of top players on the 50-and-over tour competing has increased to the point where it is now unquestionably one of PGA TOUR Champions’ marquee stops.
Winning over that many elite golfers in the span of four years means the word spread quickly that the Sanford International at Minnehaha Country Club is worth the trip to those who make a career of competing in this sport.
It feels like a major
“The biggest thing is that when the players come here they feel like they’re coming to a major event,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North, the host of the Sanford International. “You look down the 18th fairway – you have the sense that you’re coming to something important. You add to that the support that we’ve received in the community – 10,000 to 15,000 are coming out. At the end of the day, people want to see people. They want to see an event.”
A quick sampling of players competing confirmed North’s description of the view from the professionals. That includes both tournament regulars and those competing for the first time.
“It’s a great venue for us,” said Steve Stricker, who won the inaugural 2018 Sanford International. “The greens are great – and tricky. We get such good support here. People show up and support the event.”
Stricker is the captain of the U.S. squad for this year’s Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is an event that happens once every two years and captures the attention of the golfing world for three days. This year the event takes place at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., Sept. 24-26.
As captain, Stricker’s assignment is managing his stable of 12 American golfers in matches against the best from Europe. Several of Stricker’s vice-captains, also well-known PGA TOUR Champions players, are golfing in the Sanford International.
Word gets around
One of them is Jim Furyk, a 17-time winner on the regular tour who has won three times as a PGA TOUR Champions competitor. Stricker’s staff includes vice-captain Fred Couples with additional assistance from Davis Love III among Sanford International entrants.
“It’s nice to be here, I heard a lot of good things about it,” Furyk said of the Sioux Falls event he’s playing in for the first time. “I heard a lot of good things about it with Steve and Davis and Fred Couples in Kohler last week. They said great things about the golf course and the tournament.”
In addition to being the title sponsor of a PGA TOUR Champions tournament, Sanford Health conducted all on-site COVID-19 testing of players, caddies and essential personnel at PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions tournaments in the continental United States this past season.
Sanford has delivered more than 30,000 COVID tests to players and PGA staff since the onsite efforts began in June of 2020.
Raising a hand
“Our job at Sanford, first and foremost, is taking care of patients,” said Micah Aberson, Sanford Health executive vice president. “We have nurses and physicians who are going to be working at the hospital this weekend who won’t be able to come out to the golf course. The volumes are high, as everyone is well aware with the delta variant and COVID cases coming in. We continue to implore the public to get vaccinated and to be smart about their personal health.”
Integrating a message and a mission into a professional golf tournament has always been part of the plan for the Sanford International. After four years that has not changed. It has not changed because it’s a philosophy with roots established well before the tournament became part of Sanford Health’s calendar.
“This has been a company from the day I walked in the door that finds ways to get things done,” said North, who is secretary of the Sanford Board of Trustees. “Too often when people come with ideas and a hand goes up, they’ll hear ‘We can’t do that.’ Here, when the first hand goes up they hear ‘We can do it. Give us 24 hours and we’ll figure it out.’ That’s a whole different way of doing business and I think that’s why this is such an amazing health care system.”
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