SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Sanford International made its debut in 2018 in Sioux Falls. This week, the PGA TOUR Champions event makes its much-anticipated return to Minnehaha Country Club.
However, just a few months ago, the long-term future of the tournament was in doubt.
Two months after Miguel Angel Jimenez won the third annual Sanford International, the Minnehaha Country Club board of directors voted against a two-year contract extension to host the event.
“We were on pretty shaky ground, to be honest,” Sanford Health Executive Vice President Micah Aberson said.
Tournament organizers explored every option, including alternative venues, but all roads led back to MCC.
“This is just such a world-class venue and it’s so fantastic that we didn’t want to have it anywhere other than Minnehaha County Club,” Aberson said.
The two sides eventually agreed to a two-year extension running through 2024, with the tournament altering its construction schedule and layout to lessen its footprint on MCC.
“We’re thankful that we were able to get back to the table and just have some conversations and work on things to make the tournament less impactful on the membership. I think we’ve done that. I think we’ve had a good year this year and we’re excited,” Sanford International Tournament Director Josh Brewster said.
Tournament Director Josh Brewster says that in three short years the Sanford International has become one of the can’t miss events for players on the PGA TOUR Champions.
“A lot of markets these guys can get overlooked, here we’re the biggest show in town and we have great crowds and these guys love playing in front of big crowds,” Brewster said.
Tournament Host Andy North says the course itself also appeals to the players.
“You see so many of these newer golf courses that are so long and out in the country and wide open. Minnehaha is a golf course you have to hit shots on, you’ve got to think your way around a little bit, you’ve got to lay up on some holes, you’ve got to be aggressive on other holes,” Sanford International Tournament Host Andy North said.
“They know that the golf course is spectacular, they know that the crowds are great and it’s almost going to feel like a major for them,” Aberson said.
A year ago, the Sanford International was the first professional golf tournament to allow fans during the pandemic. 12 months later, COVID-19 remains an obstacle for organizers.
“The number one thing that people can do right now is get vaccinated. The number of people in the cases that we’re seeing inside our hospital or vaccinated versus unvaccinated is staggering, so the best thing people can do is to get vaccinated,” Aberson said.
“We’re always thinking of ways to better protect our fans. One of the ways we’re doing that is we’re offering vaccines to anybody that comes out that has not been vaccinated, we’re doing it right in our medical tent, right here on-site,” Brewster said.
Brewster says it’s that outside-of-the-box thinking that has made the Sanford International a success, and more than just a golf tournament.
“There’s no cookie-cutter method with Sanford, which I love, so we’re always trying to think of different ways to get people involved, whether it’s a concert, we’re doing a children’s walk on Sunday this year, we have junior clinics on-site throughout the week, we have a burger battle with the South Dakota Beef Industry Council,” Brewster said.
Providing an economic boost to the region.
“In excess of $20-million annually that’s invested just around this tournament week in direct economic impact. It’s philanthropic in nature such that we’ve been able to raise in excess of $500,000 to give back to local charities, including the Sanford Health Foundation,” Aberson said.
On the course, the tournament tees off Friday, but Aberson is already looking forward to Sunday’s 18th and final hole.
“The way that this 18th green sort of packs in on a Sunday afternoon and seeing the players come up that last fairway, it just gives you goosebumps,” Aberson said.
If it’s anything like the past three years, the championship will still be up for grabs.
“I hope we have all the big names all fighting it out at the top,” Brewster said.
“It’s going to be a great field, we’ve got a lot of guys, Sunday is always really interesting when you’ve got six or seven big-name guys that have got a chance to win,” North said.