Revealing the record-setting donation of $1.3 million to Friends of Children’s Hospital are, from left, Century Club Charities president Pat Busby; Sanderson Farms Championship Executive Director Steve Jent; Sanderson Farms CEO and Chairman of the Board Joe Sanderson; Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine; Friends of Children’s Hospital Board Chair Melanie Morgan and Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of Pediatrics.

The Sanderson Farms Championship, Mississippi’s tournament on the PGA Tour, Thursday made a record $1.3 million contribution from last September’s tournament to Friends of Children’s Hospital at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

But that might not have been the biggest news from Thursday’s news conference at UMMC.

UMMC and tournament officials both said they hope the opening of a new seven-story, $180 million pediatric clinic at the state’s only children’s hospital might coincide with the 2020 Sanderson Farms Championship, which will have new first-week-of-October dates.

“We are on schedule and on budget to open the new pediatric clinic this fall,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor. “It would be so special for the opening to coincide with the tournament that has raised so much money to make it a reality.”

The new pediatric tower will be home to 88 private neonatal intensive care rooms, 12 additional operating rooms, 32 pediatric ICU rooms, an imaging center designed for children, a specialty clinic and a new lobby. The Children’s Heart Center, UMMC’s pediatric cardiovascular program, also will be located in the new building, currently under construction along Woodrow Wilson Avenue.

“Oh man, that would be wonderful,” said Joe Sanderson Jr., CEO of Sanderson Farms and board chairman of Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi. “The purpose of our tournament is to raise money to care for these children. That’s why we exist.”

Joe and his wife Kathy Sanderson launched the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi with a $10 million personal donation in 2016. Since Sanderson Farms became the tournament’s title sponsor in 2013, the tournament has donated approximately $7.6 million to Children’s.

Joe Sanderson believes the new October dates will help the tournament grow, attract an improved field of proven players and raise more millions.

“These are the dates we really wanted and practically begged for, ” Sanderson said. “The weather should be cooler and the field should be better.”

Last year was the first in the tournament’s history, dating back to the old Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg, for it to be played as a stand-alone PGA Tournament – that is, not opposite a bigger PGA event played elsewhere.

Joe Sanderson said that while he enjoys the tournament every week, his favorite day of the year is the one when the check is delivered to UMMC.

“It’s almost like Christmas,” he said, smiling. “It’s when we give back to the children and families, and the doctors, nurses and staff of Children’s Hospital.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.