One of golf’s most respected ambassadors was honored at the PGA of America’s 103rd Annual Meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida. Barbara Nicklaus, one of the game’s most admired advocates for the healthcare of future generations in addition to being the wife of the greatest champion in golf history, was named the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Service Award.
Since 1988, the Award has honored outstanding individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf. Barbara Nicklaus, the Inaugural PGA First Lady of Golf in 1998, and Jack are the second husband and wife duo to have earned the Distinguished Service Award. Jack was a recipient in 2000, while Mark and Debi Rolfing were jointly honored in 2017.
“Barbara Nicklaus exemplifies what the words ‘giving back’ truly mean,” said PGA President Suzy Whaley. “From the platform of golf, her unlimited energy and passion for serving as a philanthropist has offered hope and a pathway to vital healthcare for countless children. We are extremely proud to present Barbara Nicklaus with the Distinguished Service Award as she joins her husband Jack, among those honored for an amazing commitment to elevating society and humanity.”
Barbara is the chair and co-founder of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation which was established in 2004 to support numerous pediatric healthcare services in South Florida and across the United States. As chair of the Foundation, she has been the catalyst to raising more than $100 million in nearly 15 years.
“To say that I was speechless when Suzy called to inform me that I was to receive this award would be an understatement,” said Mrs. Nicklaus. “When I took a minute to think about the award, I realized that I have a huge passion for a short four-letter-word-GOLF-and that has been a very important part of my life for almost 60 years. It has opened so many doors to allow me to attempt to ‘give back’ to the game that Jack loved when I met him and to game that I now love, cherish and support unconditionally. Golf has made so many wonderful things possible. Jack and I could never give back as much as we have been blessed to receive from this amazing game. The PGA of America has been and is the ‘heart and soul’ of the game of golf. I am so honored, so touched and so very proud to accept this phenomenal award.”
In March 2015, the Nicklaus’s support of children’s hospitals was recognized when globally renowned Miami Children’s Hospital was rebranded as Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. In November 2017, the entire Miami Children’s Health System was renamed as Nicklaus Children’s Health System. This network new features 15 outpatient centers from Miami north to Vero Beach and west to Naples.
Born Barbara Jean Bash in Columbus, Ohio, she was the daughter of a public high school mathematics instructor and became a pre-nursing student at The Ohio State University, where she met her future husband. While Jack went on to a legendary career, Barbara became the mother of five children and one of the most respected wives on the PGA TOUR, becoming a beacon for fundraising for numerous charitable organizations.
Among their favorite charities is Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. When it was known as Columbus Children’s Hospital, the facility provided the emergency care to nurse their only daughter, Nan, who contracted pneumonia before her first birthday after accidentally inhaling a portion of a crayon which lodged in her windpipe. Today Nan is married and the mother of five children, including NFL standout and Florida State All-American Nick O’Leary.
It all started with a little blue crayon. Barbara says, “There’s a saying that a baby is God’s opinion that life should go on and that is how Jack and I feel.”