The first Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am golf tournament, played on March 23, raised more than $500,000 to help fund research to prevent autism and find a cure.
Twenty-one present and former PGA Tour players turned out for the event, held at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Sixty-three amateur golfers teed up with the pros on the sunny but very windy Monday.
The senior pros included Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd and Greg Norman. Ernie Els led a group of current PGA tour stars that included Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Tim Clark, Luke Donald, Tim Herron, Justin Rose and Jeev Mikha Singh, among others. The amateur golfers on hand included Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Orr, and a host of top business executives, most of them wine collectors and many of them leaders in the wine and spirits industry.
|The winners of the tournament, with Ernie Els, third from right, and Marvin R. Shanken, far right.|
The format was a best ball score for each group of three amateurs and a professional. The winning team, scoring a net 61, was led by Luke Donald, with amateurs Bill Terlato, Mike Winkler and Robert Wulf. The second-place team carded a 62 and was headed by Greg Norman, with amateurs Johann Rupert, Rurik Gabel and Alan Quasha.
The tournament was co-sponsored by Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of both publications, and Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont International S.A..
The Els for Autism Foundation was created after Ernie Els won the Honda Classic in 2008. In post-tournament interviews, Els revealed that his 6-year-old son, Ben, suffered from autism and that he and his wife, Liezl, wanted the world to know more about the affliction. Els said that Shanken proposed the idea of a pro-am charity tournament to him, and that he enthusiastically responded, "Let's do it!"
Autism is a growing medical concern. According to statistics provided by the Els for Autism Foundation, one in 150 American children is diagnosed with the disorder, and it is projected that in 2009, more children will be diagnosed with autism than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. And while autism-related costs in the United States are estimated to be least $35 billion per year, the disorder receives less than 5 percent of the funding of many less prevalent childhood afflictions.
"This is a major problem," Els said, "but we feel that through friends, we can take [it] forward."
"We wanted to keep the tournament small this first year to see how it went," Shanken said. "It is more successful than we ever could have imagined. We're going to raise a lot more money and do a lot more good in the years ahead."
Els added, "We're going to put this money to work to find a cure and a prevention for autism. This is a great start."
Gordon Mott is executive editor of Cigar Aficionado.
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