Ernie and Liezl Els proudly hosted the 2016 Els for Autism Golf Challenge Grand Finale at The Encore at the Wynn Las Vegas on November 4-5.
The 2016 Golf Challenge raised a spectacular $3 million for The Els for Autism Foundation. Commenting on this year’s fundraising efforts, Ernie Els said, “The dedication from our donors, teams and sponsors this year has been just incredible. They have all been instrumental in every step of making The Els Center of Excellence everything we dreamed it would be; a hub for best practices with a core mission of connecting the global autism community.”
This year’s event took place during a PGA TOUR stop, The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. In partnership with Shriners, Els for Autism hosted a #GameON Autism™ Golf Clinic at TPC Summerlin on Tuesday after Ernie’s practice round. Ernie, along with the Foundation staff and several trained students from UNLV, hosted 16 participants from FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) of Southern Nevada. The golf clinics have become a hugely successful program, aimed at developing life skills for those on the spectrum by helping them build self-esteem and confidence, along with encouraging social interaction and healthy living.
“I really enjoy being involved in these #GameON clinics and to see the incredibly positive effect they have on all of the participants and their families,” commented Ernie. “It’s a wonderful program that is seeing huge demand globally and we’re grateful to all of the organizations and individuals that have supported us so far.”
For the Finalists the week really began on Friday when Ernie and Liezl hosted this year’s Grand Finale welcome party at Encore Beach Club at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Saturday saw many of the guests play in the Grand Finale golf tournament at Bali Hai and the Wynn golf courses. Before they teed off they enjoyed an one-hour golf skills challenge led by PGA TOUR pros Peter Malnati, Bud Cauley, and Morgan Hoffmann (pictured below with Liezl Els). With Todd Lewis and Jerry Foltz MC’ing the event, the guests were able to see up close how good these PGA TOUR players are! Also, three lucky groups got paired with each professional and competed in a six-shot skills challenge. This year’s winners were Peter Malnati alongside Roy Hart and Raj Krishnasamy.
One of the focuses of the weekend was the 5th annual Els for Autism ‘Best Practices Best Outcomes’ conference. The theme this year was ‘Helping Dreams Take Flight: Putting Theory into Practice’ and featured among its key speakers Liezl Els, Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Erin Lozott, Dr. Jessica Weber and Dr. Kerri Morse. In addition, and for the first time ever, a webinar facility provided global access to live online streaming of the event for all those that could not attend in person.
Later that evening all the guests and sponsors gathered for the awards ceremony. This event serves more than just to award the golfers, but also to celebrate all of those who have made The Golf Challenge so successful. Presenting sponsor, SAP, again showed their commitment to the autism community and Els for Autism and spoke at length about the great impact that their Autism at Work program is having on the company. The program employs 108 colleagues on the autism spectrum at 12 locations across the globe. Individuals fill 18 different roles from graphic design to cyber security. Autism at Work has provided 50 individuals on the autism spectrum in North America alone. SAP’s stated goal is to have one per cent of its workforce represented by individuals on the spectrum by 2020 and you can see why it has recently been named the ‘20th Most Purposeful Brand in the World’.
The final award of the evening is the Spectrum Award, which recognizes an individual on the spectrum who is realizing their dreams and aspirations through excellence in character, attitude and contribution. The 2016 award went to SAP employee Gloria Mendoza (pictured below). Gloria joined SAP as an intern through the Autism at Work program and is now a full-time employee currently working in SAP’s Premium Engagements Organization. She has become certified on the newest technologies and has also become an active member of the Autism at Work mentor program. Not only a skilled employee at SAP, Gloria has a magnificent voice and serenaded the audience with a magical performance to bring the Grand Finale awards ceremony to a close.
The Els for Autism team would like to take this opportunity to express its thanks to our Golf Challenge Organizing Sponsors: Adams Golf, RBC and Wine Spectator; and also to Boeing (Platinum Sponsor), EY (Platinum Sponsor), Irish Links (Contributing Sponsor), Maui Jim (Contributing Sponsor), Bali Hai Golf Club (event host and sponsor) Encore at Wynn (event host and sponsor) and the PGA TOUR. They would also like to thank all of the sponsors, participants, volunteers, honorary captains and, of course, donors from all around the world who helped make this a record-breaking year.
Details of the 2017 Golf Challenge will be announced soon. In the meantime, you can get a flavour for what the event is all about by reading this year’s Golf Challenge press release; please just click here.