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, more than 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 125 cumulative years of participation, while the Meers family counts 99 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 co-presenting sponsor of the 58th annual event and festivities. Corporate support has allowed the Pro Am to achieve record-breaking success for the hospital. Today, the event raises nearly $2 million annually.
The Founders’ Board celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Pro Am in 2010. This historical book was created to commemorate the event’s rich history of investing in the health and well-being of children.
The Pro Am is the most successful annual fundraising event in the hospital’s history. Cumulative proceeds total more than $20 million, which has enabled Lurie Children’s 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 Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.