Spearheaded by World of Golf Hall of Famer and Els for Autism Founder, Ernie Els, The Els for Autism Golf Challenge has raised nearly $12 million for autism thanks to over 9,000 rounds of golf and over 30,000 donations since its inaugural 2011 series.
2015 has been the most successful year to date with a total of $2.93 million raised from 25 events across the United States and Canada.
The Golf Challenge, an international, season long, amateur golf series comprising of 20+ events across the U.S. and Canada between May-October, hosted its 2015 Grand Finale at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas from November 13-15. The funds raised from the annual Golf Challenge series are a major income stream for the Foundation’s capital campaign to build The Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter, a state-of-the-art Center with a local, national and global reach. The Center opened its first two buildings in August 2015 – the Lower School and Auditorium Building (ribbon-cutting ceremony pictured below), and is now focused on raising the necessary funds to complete the 26-acre campus. Funds raised in Canada stay within the Canadian province in which they were raised.
Thanks to the Golf Challenge’s generous family of sponsors, led by Presenting Sponsor SAP, and Organizing Sponsors RBC, Wine Spectator and Adams Golf, the Grand Finale weekend itself proved an unforgettable experience for all the teams who stepped up to the challenge to help Ernie and Liezl build a more beautiful future for those with autism. Finalists experienced fabulous parties, had access to an autism conference and enjoyed tournament golf at the area’s most prestigious courses. They also had the opportunity to see Ernie in action at a Golf Skills Challenge (pictured below) presented by the PGA TOUR.
Ernie announced the Highest Fundraising teams of the 2015 Els for Autism Golf Challenge in Las Vegas at a fabulous Awards Ceremony and Gala Celebration. The event, hosted by Presenting Sponsor SAP, celebrated 6 months of competition on and off the course and featured a performance by Grammy award-winning band, Train. This year, Tim Shreckengost and Steve Sheppard of Team Lucas’ Steps repeated their 2013 fundraising victory by again topping the tournament’s Donation Leaderboard with an incredible $58,165.00. The entire family came up to the stage and were awarded ‘The Els Cup’ by Ernie and Liezl Els in the name of their Honorary Captain, Lucas.
The second highest fundraising team was Team Deersey, made up of father and son duo, Andrew and Joshua Deer of Fort Worth, TX. In third place was Team Chistay & The Doctor made up of Gary Chiste and Eric Wasylenko of Alberta, Canada, while an Honorable Mention went to Tanner’s Team made up of brothers Gregory and Jeffrey Poor of Boston, MA. These teams were all on hand at the Grand Finale to accept their awards and were among a record 87 teams that qualified for the Grand Finale by raising or donating $13,000 or more.
A Fundraising Excellence Award was also awarded to Team Bajaj & Verma made up of Moe Bajaj and Vic Verma, of Dallas, TX in special recognition of them having raised over $100,000 in cumulative fundraising since the Golf Challenge series began. With the collection of this award, Team Bajaj & Verma, join Team Lucas’ Steps, Team Payton McGuire and Team White & Marcus in what has become known as the $100,000 club.
2015 was the inaugural year of the Els for Autism Spectrum Award, a new award that honors an individual with autism who has brought autism into a positive light via their character, attitude and contribution. This year’s winner, Joshua Deer, was announced to a standing ovation at the gala awards. Joshua, who has been studying with the Golf Academy of America for an Associate’s Degree in Golf Management, has made an incredibly positive impact both as a player and major fundraiser in the Golf Challenge. Over the last two years Joshua’s Team Deersey has raised over $65k for autism and more recently he has given his time as a volunteer assistant coach at a number of the Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf Clinics, where he imparts his knowledge and passion for the game of golf to other young people on the spectrum.
The top three low net teams at each of the Finale tournaments hosted at Bali Hai and Rio Secco, were invited to choose from a grab bag of amazing trips. Prizes included golf getaways to Ireland provided by IRISH LINKS, romantic escapes to Iconic Santorini; a boutique cave hotel in Greece; and stays at The Orchard Inn; a historic bed and breakfast in North Carolina. Players taking part in the Finale were presented with a luxury gift bag with items donated by the event’s generous sponsors, including a TaylorMade backpack, a dozen TaylorMade golf balls, a pair of custom-fitted Maui Jim sunglasses, a Fairway & Greene golf shirt, an Els for Autism I-ONICS Power Sport Band, a ball marker from EY, Magical Music For Life CD, snacks from Savor Street, a copy of ‘Two Good Rounds – Titans’ by Elisa Gaudet and the latest issue of Wine Spectator. VIPS who had raised $30,000 or more and were part of the exclusive Golden Circle group also walked away with a Breitling backpack, Stable 26 footgear, a Steve Madden gift pack, a Cigar Aficionado all in one divot tool, and a gift pack from SAP with a golf towel, valuables pouch and shoe bag.
One of the Foundation’s Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf Clinics was hosted at Rio Secco alongside the Finale tournament. Twenty young people from local autism schools were invited to take part in the clinic that was hosted by PGA REACH and Els for Autism. This introductory clinic was one of 26 clinics that were hosted at Golf Challenge host courses across the U.S. and Canada from May-October; providing nearly 400 children and adults on the autism spectrum access to FREE, tailored golf instruction and providing a great way for the local autism community to come together in each city.
A training session for 17 PGA golf instructors, from the local Las Vegas area, was also hosted by Els for Autism; giving instruction and guidance on how to run a successful #GameON Autism Golf Clinic and Program.
The Foundation’s 4th Annual Best Practices – Best Outcomes Conference, presented by Southern Company was also hosted at Mandalay Bay and attended by the player guests as well as parents and autism professionals local to the Las Vegas area.
Team Lucas’ Steps commented: “Every person at the Grand Finale as well as those that golfed in all of the challenges have the same goal in mind; we have each embraced autism with the desire to learn as much as possible and do everything we can to help our children. These children may never be able to show us what they feel or are thinking, but we hope that they know we are giving them every ounce of our love and support and are trying daily to find ways to make learning and socializing a little easier for them. With the Els’ vision this will become a reality. Thanks to everyone who has been part of our story and part of making dreams come true for children on the spectrum. A special thanks to Lucas, our Honorary Captain and the inspiration behind our team.”
Ernie Els, whose 13-year old son Ben is profoundly impacted by autism, and who set up the Els for Autism Foundation in 2009 with his wife Liezl said: “A heartfelt thank you to all of our Golf Challenge teams and sponsors who have helped us start to deliver on our vision – our Golf Challenge family has been absolutely pivotal in getting the first two buildings open. A special thank you goes to the Golf Challenge’s long-term Presenting Sponsor SAP as well as our Organizing Sponsors – RBC, Adams Golf and Wine Spectator, our Contributing Sponsors, Regional Sponsors and our event chairmen – who together form the heart of the Golf Challenge series. A special nod to all of the Golden Circle teams and in particular the inspirational Lucas’ Steps whose passion and dedication every year never fails to amaze Liezl and I.”
He added: “The theme of this year’s Finale was ‘Celebrating Connections’ It was the perfect theme for the weekend as we celebrated the connections we are making with the local and worldwide autism communities, and the connections we have with our donor family. Every year we welcome new faces to the Finale event but it is truly awe-inspiring to see how many of our teams come back year after year to support us.”
Contributing Sponsors for the series include The Boeing Company, IRISH LINKS, Maui Jim, Southern Company, PGA TOUR, Summit Golf Brands, The Honda Classic, Rich Harvest Farms, Scarboro Golf & Country Club, Bali Hai Golf Club, Southwest Airlines, Hospitality America and Floridian National GC.
Visit www.elsforautism.org to find out more about the Foundation and how you can support Ernie’s efforts to make a difference in the lives of kids and families living with autism.
To donate by check: make out checks to Els for Autism and address to: Els for Autism, The Els Center of Excellence, 18370 Limestone Creek Road, Jupiter, FL. 33458.
To donate online visit: www.elsforautism.org
The Els for Autism Foundation
The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by PGA TOUR golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl (residents of Jupiter, FL) shortly after their son Ben (now 13) was diagnosed with autism. The Foundation’s overarching mission is to help people on the autism spectrum fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive and rewarding lives. Els for Autism has offices in the U.S., Canada, South Africa, and the UK. In the U.S., to help fulfill its mission Els for Autism is building a state-of-the-art Center of Excellence in Jupiter, FL, with a local, national and global reach and is in the middle of a capital campaign to finance the development. The first two buildings of the Center – the Auditorium Building and The Lower School opened on August 17, 2015
The Golf Challenge – The Story so Far (since 2011)
– $11.9 million has been raised at the Regional Events
– 9,000+ rounds of golf have been played
– 30,000+ donations have been made
– 800+ children and young adults on the spectrum have been introduced to the game of golf via the Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf Clinics
– The series has been catalytic in terms of raising awareness of the Foundation and autism as a cause