ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Amanda Hadley provides arguably the best example of why the PGA Tour’s Daycare program is so beloved. Hadley, the wife of pro Chesson Hadley and mother of three, hasn’t had to potty train either of her first two kids.
“I found out that our oldest, Hughes, had to be potty trained to start pre-school,” said Amanda, a board member of the PGA Tour Wives Association. “I showed up the next morning and they said, ‘We’ll help you. Let’s start tomorrow. Bring a stack of clothes and some big-boy underwear and we’re going to power through this.’ By the end of the week they had him potty trained.”
PGA Tour pros receive an assortment of perks, everything from courtesy cars to gourmet meals at player dining, but they all run a distant second to a daycare system that is provided to the membership 43 weeks a year, allowing players and their families an opportunity to travel together throughout the year.
“This lifestyle takes its toll on marriage and family because of all the travel and being apart,” said Stewart Cink. “It makes it more doable. It doesn’t take away all the stress, but it reduces the load.”
The program was formed in 1998, back when Cink still had hair and his two married sons, Conor (28) and Reagan (24), who now doubles as his caddie, were regulars. At the time, Susan Dittmer, the director of PGA Tour Family Centers, was overseeing daycare for employees of a bank in Jacksonville when the PGA Tour was seeking to create a more consistent experience for families and were so impressed with her facility that it wooed her away.
“I call her the captain of the ship,” Amanda Hadley said.
The infant room at the RSM Classic. (Courtesy Susan Dittmer/PGA Tour)
In her first week on the job, Dittmer was playing house with some of the young kids and declared that it was time to make dinner. She expected them to be seeking dishes and gathering the plastic play food for the meal, but no.
“They were looking for a phone so they could call room service,” she said. “That was my first introduction to this was going to be a little bit different.”
Chesson Hadley with wife Amanda and son Hughes after winning the PGA Tour’s 2014 Puerto Rico Open.
Back in those early days, before cell phones became prevalent, parents were given a pager and told to call the office if they got a 911 message. Kids are eligible to attend “Golf School,” as it’s commonly called, beginning at six weeks of age up to 12 years. The busiest time period is the summer when kids are out of school and an influx of families travel together. Each tournament provides empty rooms and more than 6,500 pounds of portable cribs, toys and the like are shipped from one tournament to the next and the crates unloaded to provide a constant and consistent environment week – same toys, same instructors, same friends. (Lots of them develop lifelong friendships due to their families unique lifestyle.)
“I don’t even think about my kids when I’m on the golf course because I know they’re happy,” said Webb Simpson, father of five children with wife Dowd.
Following the sun in pursuit of birdies affords a wealth of cultural activities ranging from getting muddy in the taro fields of Hawaii, holding their own Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans, visiting zoos in San Diego and Ft. Worth, Texas, and, of course, the older kids adore going to Universal Studios theme park during the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The Tour’s daycare was closed for nearly a year due to COVID-19, but reopened in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational following CDC protocols, including staff wearing masks. The familiar soundtrack of “Baby Shark” played in one of four rooms, based on ages, that housed 60 kids during the RSM Classic last week.
Susan Dittmer, a road warrior for 24 years as director of the PGA Tour’s Family Centers, retired after the RSM Classic and looks forward to sleeping in her own bed, hiking in Ireland and celebrating all the special occasions she’s missed while being with her road family. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Dittmer chuckled that most of the players she started with 24 years ago have graduated to PGA Tour Champions and their kids are old enough to have their own kids. She has seen everyone from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson to Rory McIlroy in a very different light. “It’s kind of fun from my point of view,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what they just shot at the course, when they come by afterwards they all light up and they’ll sit on the floor, play with the kids and they’re just dad.”
She hasn’t forgotten the time they were at the zoo in Fort Worth and Mickelson tagged along with his kids and he called Dittmer over and he said, “I just want you to know how much we appreciate you and that our kids get to go to golf school.”
Simpson, who is second only to Aaron Baddeley (six kids) for the largest family on Tour, typically invites his kids’ teachers over to his house during the Wells Fargo Championship as a small token of his appreciation.
The toddler room at the RSM Classic. (Courtesy Susan Dittmer/PGA Tour)
On Tuesday night, at the annual players-wives wiffle ball game held during the RSM Classic, Dittmer, who is retiring, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and was presented a red hard-covered scrapbook filled with letters from parents and kids from the past 24 years. Amanda Hadley helped assemble it and noted that all the letters included some version of the same story of being nervous at drop off on the first day – Michelle Riley, wife of Chris, noted that she cried – and how the staff became an extension of their family.
“We were all thrown into this unnatural life as new moms with young families on the road,” Hadley said. “The childcare people helped us figure out how to be a mom.”