The Pro Am has a notable history dating back to 1960 when Sissy Wheeler first presented the idea of a pro-amateur golf fundraiser to her fellow members of the hospital’s Founders’ Board (called the Woman’s Board at the time.) Little did Mrs. Wheeler know that her idea would inspire the support and involvement of thousands and create a tradition of giving that continues to thrive today — half a century later.
In planning the inaugural Pro Am, members of the Founders’ Board wisely enlisted their friend John Ames, past president of the U.S. Golf Association, to help recruit professional golfers to take part. Originally the tournament was held on the Monday following the Western Open to attract PGA tour professionals to stay and compete for the $10,000 purse, a relatively large sum at the time. The tournament model was so well-conceived, it remains largely unchanged today.
The first Pro Am was held on Monday, July 31, 1961 at the Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Illinois. It raised $65,000 for the hospital’s “Free Care Fund,” designated for families who could not afford to pay for their children’s lifesaving treatments.
In its early years, the Pro Am attracted a number of golf legends, including Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriquez, Jack Nicklaus, Homero Blancas, Gene Sarazen, Julius Boros and Lee Trevino, in addition to entertainer Bob Hope. Today, golf professionals from the top-rated, most prestigious country clubs in the nation are invited to play with the amateurs.
The Pro Am is fortunate to have earned the loyalty of many amateur golfers who play year after year. Some families’ participation spans multiple generations. The Stepan family for example, counts 123 cumulative years of participation, while the Meers family counts 96 cumulative years.
In 1970, the Pro Am added its first corporate sponsor: Marcor, Inc., the parent company of Montgomery Ward. Northern Trust was another early partner. In 1984, United Airlines joined as a sponsor and has supported the Pro Am every year since. United is the presenting sponsor of the 51st annual event and festivities. Corporate support has substantially increased the Pro Am’s proceeds to around $1 million each year.
The Pro Am is the most successful annual fundraising event in the hospital’s history. Cumulative proceeds total more than $14 million, which has enabled Children’s Memorial to enhance patient care and to recruit renowned leaders in pediatric medicine and science. Learn more about the event’s impact on the lives of children and families at Children’s Memorial Hospital.