How Jack and Barbara Nicklaus’ ‘Play Yellow’ campaign has raised millions for children’s hospitals, and how you can help support it

jack nicklaus in a yellow sweater

Jack Nicklaus has long been fond of the color yellow, an association he has used to help generate support for children’s health.

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In support of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation initiative, Raymond James will match up to $20,000 in donationsYou may donate here. To learn how to support Covid-19 relief through the NCHCF, click here.


Except in team competitions like the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, professional golfers don’t wear uniforms. Still, some become linked to clothing of a specific color. 

Tiger Woods is known for wearing red shirts on Sundays. Gary Player’s penchant for all-black outfits earned him the nickname “The Black Knight.” Golf’s greatest-ever major champion, Jack Nicklaus, is famous for his love of yellow — an association he has used, along with his wife of 60 years, Barbara, to support their longstanding, passionate charitable commitment to children’s health in general and to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) in particular.

Nicklaus’ fondness for yellow originated with a boy named Craig Smith. At age 10, Craig, the son of the minister of Barbara Nicklaus in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, was stricken with Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. The boy was a huge Jack Nicklaus fan, and Nicklaus would often call Craig to check in; during one such call following a victory, Craig told Nicklaus he knew in advance that Nicklaus would win became he was wearing his “lucky” yellow shirt.

Jack Nicklaus in his “lucky” yellow shirt. getty

Tragically, Craig Smith passed away in 1971 at age 13, but his legacy lives on in the “Play Yellow” cause-marketing platform for the golf industry. Play Yellow is a joint effort of the Nicklauses, the PGA Tour, and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which has a network of 170 hospitals across North America and relies upon donations to fund pediatric care that insurance programs don’t cover. 

Its origin story is almost too good to be true: Barbara and Jack, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and CMNH CEO and President John Lauck gathered over a plate of chocolate-chip cookies in the Nicklauses’ West Palm Beach, Fla., home to figure out how out to best help the 10 million kids treated annually at local children’s hospitals. What resulted from this cookie summit was Play Yellow, with the ambitious goal of raising $100 million in just five years.

Some of these funds are coming from the generosity of Play Yellow’s partners — including brand partners Ahead USA, Callaway, FootJoy, Nicklaus Golf and the Nicklaus Children’s Health Charity Foundation, PGA Tour Superstore and TaylorMade; golf course partners Marriott GOLF, the PGA of America, TPC and Troon; corporate partner event the ACE Shootout; and tournament partners like the Korn Ferry Tour, the LPGA Tour, the Players Championship — and this week’s Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. 

The organizers of the Memorial Tournament, which won’t have fans onsite this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, still have come up with several ways to support the Play Yellow campaign. Players and volunteers can show their backing for the cause by wearing yellow on Sunday, and throughout the week players will wear special #playyellow ribbons.

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Of course, Play Yellow was designed to provide everyone in the golf community the chance to participate. While watching the tournament on television or online (or anytime), golf fans can purchase Jack’s official Play Yellow Ahead hat and branded Play Yellow gear, as well as make a donation to our local children’s hospital by clicking here. As part of its own push to encourage philanthropy, the financial firm Raymond James will match up to $20,000 in donations across this and two other Nicklaus Child Health Care Foundation initiatives. 

As the golf industry returns to something closer to normal amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there is still another way to help — by adopting your local children’s hospital as your charitable tournament, event, league or course’s cause. By purchasing the Play Yellow fundraising kit, you’ll be able to engage your participants in Play Yellow fundraising; an online sign-up starts this simple process. 

Similarly, would-be sponsors or manufacturers can add the Play Yellow brand to their product via the platform’s resource kit, which also begins with filling out an online form, which will be followed up on by a Play Yellow team member. Other straightforward ways to help: Courses can ask players or club members to add $1-$5 onto the greens fee, while any business, course or otherwise, can put a coin jar on the counter and solicit donations. 

The importance of children’s health speaks for itself, but it’s worth noting that you might also do well by doing good — if you want people to try your product, improve customer loyalty or enhance a brand, supporting local children’s hospitals is a well-established winner. 

Just like a certain golf legend who favors the color yellow.

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