Avery Hill poses for a once-in-a-lifetime selfie with her mom, Mindy, and little sister at the Sanford International in September 2019.

‘So much more than golf’: Sanford International gives back

October 24, 2019

The second annual Sanford International presented by Cambria featured some of golf’s most iconic players, but the real star of the tournament was 4-year-old Avery Hill.

Speaking at the opening ceremonies in Sioux Falls last month, Micah Aberson, executive vice president of Sanford Health, turned the crowd’s attention to the little girl standing nearby in rainbow-colored hightops.

“This is about Avery,” Aberson said. “She’s the real hero.

Avery was born 11 weeks premature with two brain bleeds. She spent the first 64 days of her life at the Sanford Boekelhiede NICU and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after her first birthday.

During the week, Avery, now a busy junior kindergartner, served as an ambassador for the Sanford International, representing all the kids who rely on Sanford Children’s as well as Sanford World Clinic, the tournament’s beneficiaries through the Sanford Health Foundation.

“Everything we raise this week goes toward the Sanford Health Foundation,” Aberson said. “It supports kids like Avery locally and around the world.”

Avery’s mother, Mindy, was especially moved by the support.

“I have been approached by numerous people about how amazing it is that this event was made to be about so much more than golf,” she said in a letter to Aberson.

“Thank you for reminding everyone, myself included, what it was all about. And thank you for making Avery feel so special and so loved. Her beaming smile lasted all weekend long.”

A vow to help children

 Jack and Barbara Nicklaus meet Avery at the opening ceremony

The cause struck a personal note with the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus returned to Sioux Falls for the second year in a row to headline the EMC Legends Series, a nine-hole match-play exhibition, which helped raise $91,000 for the Foundation.

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

In addition to serving on the Sanford International Board, Barbara Nicklaus is the chairman and co-founder of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, an organization that collaborates with pediatric hospitals, like Sanford Children’s, to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of childhood illnesses.

“I see what happens with these kids,” Nicklaus said. “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.”

Support the cause

The second annual Sanford International is in the books, but you can still support kids and families today. Whether you choose to make a difference for local kids through Sanford Children’s or kids around the globe through Sanford World Clinic, every dollar will help save and transform lives.