How Nicklaus Children’s Health Care is using the power of reading to help some of its youngest patients

July 30, 2020
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Any professional golfer worth his Tour card can give you chapter and verse about the importance of reading greens — the silkiest, most efficient putting stroke doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t identify the proper line.

Any professional educator worth her library card can give you chapter and verse about the importance of reading, period — all the robust physical health in the world can’t on its own make a child develop intellectually. Consider, for example, all the benefits of reading aloud to an infant: It builds the foundation of communication by developing listening, memory and vocabulary skills while introducing the child to concepts like colors, letters, numbers and shapes. As the old slogan says, reading is fundamental, just like good grip, posture and alignment are to golfers.

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus have been devoted to the cause of children’s health throughout their 60 years of marriage, a focus born in part from the near-fatal medical emergency as a toddler of their daughter Nan. Thanks to world-class medical care at Columbus (Ohio) Children’s Hospital (now Nationwide Children’s Hospital, part of the 170-strong Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals), Nan survived her scare and today is a healthy mother of five kids herself.

“As young parents, Jack and I looked at each other and said, ‘If we’re ever in a position to help anyone, we want it to be children,’” Barbara recalled of the nerve-jangling episode. In 2004, Jack and Barbara launched their signature charitable endeavor, the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.

While the Golden Bear’s on-course records have proven inspirational to everyone from Tiger Woods down the everyday hacker, the numbers surrounding his and Barbara’s philanthropy might be even more astounding. Less than two decades since inception, Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation has raised $125 million — more than 20 times what Jack earned in his entire career on the PGA Tour, amazingly enough — and granted $80-plus million of that in the service of world-class pediatric healthcare. If these off-course endeavors prove half as motivating as the on-course ones, as they surely will, their impact will last generations.

“A legacy is not what you do on the field or inside the ropes,” Nicklaus himself has said. “A legacy is what you leave behind for others and how you are remembered.”

Golfers know that a difficult start doesn’t have to mean a difficult round: A bogey on the first hole or two can be overcome. NCHCF wants to help the infants in Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit turn the page, literally, from a challenging beginning in life.

The hospital’s ENRICH Literacy Program was created in collaboration with clinicians to educate and empower parents to engage, nurture and read to infants and children, providing resources for parents and educators in the community to increase literacy rates. As a part of its “Reading Is Healing” initiative, NCHCF will give a box of children’s books to a patient recovering in the NICU for every $30 it receives from donors.

That’s a much better reason to reach into your pocket than to pull out a mulligan ball or money to pay off a lost bet on the course, right? (You can help here.)

“Jack and I often look at each other and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’ve been places we never thought we’d go, we’ve met people we never thought we’d meet, and golf opened so many doors,’” Barbara said. “Golf’s just such a wonderful sport.”

And should you yourself want to read into those words, “I myself am so lucky to have found golf — I should give back,” well, that would be quite the happy ending.

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