UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. — As the wife of arguably the greatest golfer of all-time, Barbara Nicklaus spent most of her time in the background.
Not a problem.
While her husband, Jack, traveled the world winning golf tournaments and bringing home the bacon, mom stayed busy with their own five children, and a willingness to help others.
Those efforts went unpublicized, but never unnoticed or underappreciated. And on Tuesday evening in nearby Tacoma, the highest award given by the United States Golf Association, the Bob Jones Award, was presented to her.
The award is presented annually to an individual “who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game” exhibited by the famed Jones.
Earlier in the day, Barbara and Jack discussed the award inside the media center at Chambers Bay, site of the first U.S. Open ever played in the Pacific Northwest.
“Obviously, it’s just a phenomenal honor and I am so humbled,” she said of becoming the 61st recipient and second Nicklaus. Her husband received the same award 40 years ago.
She joins a short list of non-golfers to win the award, including a former President, George H.W. Bush, and two actors, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Her qualification matches any of the previous winners.
“She’s been so great to so many people in the game of golf,” Jack said. “She’s contributed so much to what’s gone on with the wives and Tour wives and the advice she’s given to all the young girls coming out and the kids she’s been involved with, the charities she’s been involved with.”
While the bulk of her work has been done behind the scenes and out of the public eye, the passion both of them share for helping others, especially children, is a Nicklaus staple and has been for a long time.
“We were 20 when we got married and we had just turned 25 when we had an 11-month-old daughter who was choking, and then would be okay,” she recalled. And then she would choke and be okay.
“I won’t go into details, but it ended up that she had inhaled blue crayon. They did a bronchoscopy, they dropped a piece in her lung, and it immediately went into pneumonia. So, anyway, we felt like Columbus (Ohio) Children’s Hospital saved her life.
“We kind of looked at each other and said if we’re ever in a position to help anyone, we want it to be children. It’s been fun. It’s been a labor of love. If we’ve helped one family, we’re happy.”
It’s safe to say that the Nicklaus’s have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of families, especially in the South Florida, home of the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
For good reason, using the Nicklaus name to raise money works wonders.
“”We’re going to help them fund raise,” Jack said. “Frankly what it amounts to. We got a nice big bull by the tail right now.”
Said Barbara, “We have our work cut out for us.”
Said Jack, “We do have our work cut out for us, but that’s okay.”
The Nicklaus Foundation was established in 2004 and was designed to “bring better health care to children in our area and surrounding areas,” she said.
“And then, in 2005, we lost a grandchild and that was — it kind of — our foundation grew by leaps and bounds because now we wanted to keep Jake’s memory alive and do more for him (Jake drowned in a swimming pool).
“So we actually have a wonderful outpatient center in our area. We like to call it a one-stop shop. We have urgent care, physical therapy, occupational, autism, feeding therapy and subspecialists. So I think that’s one of the things we’re most proud of.
“When we run into families who say ‘thank you, you’ve saved us two or three days at home’, why that’s what it’s all about.”