The Pro Am

The Annual Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado Els for Autism Pro Am, which began in 2009, took place on March 7th 2016 at Old Palm Golf Club in Florida.

This already special day was made extraordinary with one magic moment, when Rickie Fowler (pictured below) slotted an ace to win $1 million for the charity in the Hole-In-One Challenge sponsored by SAP and Ketel One Vodka. “This man – he is my hero,” said Ernie. “The hairs on my arm are still standing up. It’s a million bucks, we can start the second phase [of The Els Center of Excellence] now.”

DORAL, FL - MARCH 06: Rickie Fowler of the United States is embraced by Ernie Els after he had just holed in one in the $1 million Hole-In-One Challenge sponsored by SAP and Ketel One Vodka for the Els for Autism Foundation's Center of Excellence in Jupiter, Florida during the Els for Autism Pro-am at the Old Palm Golf Club on March 7, 2016 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ernie’s wife, Liezl, was overcome with emotion. “I can’t believe what just happened,” she said of the hole-in-one contest. “This means we can build the upper school at The Els Center of Excellence. It’s hard to put into words how much it means.” She looked over at Fowler, appreciation in her wet eyes, as total hysteria broke out amongst the crowd.

The Annual Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado Els for Autism Pro Am, a private, invitation-only event, has become a firm fixture on the March golfing calendar…the unofficial fifth stop on golf’s Florida Swing, you might say. And as in previous years the 2016 event featured a star-studded line-up of Ernie Els, Jack Nicklaus, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Nick Price, Retief Goosen, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Tringale, Camilo Villegas, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Greg Chalmers, Keegan Bradley, K.J. Choi, Louis Oosthuizen, Rich Beem, Rory Sabbatini, Thomas Aiken, Tony Finau and Vijay Singh. To save you the math, this group of 22 players boasts an astonishing 39 Major Championship victories combined. Among the other Major Champions to have competed in the Pro Am over the years are Greg Norman, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Jordan Spieth, Ian Baker-Finch, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Justin Leonard and Michelle Wie. This event could almost claim Tour event status!

It’s a simple but phenomenally successful formula: Every year 22 top tour pros are joined by an enthusiastic group of amateurs, thrilled to be inside the ropes with a legendary cast of some of the greatest names in golf, and there is support from a dedicated panel of prestige brands. At the helm alongside Ernie and Liezl are the event’s founders, and close personal friends of the Els family, Marvin R. Shanken (pictured below at the 2016 event with Ernie, Liezl and Rickie Fowler) the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines, and Johann Rupert.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 07: Ernie Els of South Africa holds the cheque with his wife Liezl Els showing the extra one million dollars to the money raised at the pro-am organised by Marvin Shanken the publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines (r) after Rickie Fowlerof the United States (r) had just holed in one in the $1 million Hole-In-One Challenge sponsored by SAP and Ketel One Vodka for the Els for Autism Foundation's Center of Excellence in Jupiter, Florida during the Els for Autism Pro-am at the Old Palm Golf Club on March 7, 2016 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

“So many star pros to thank for playing on their day off,” said Marvin R. Shanken. “So many amateur players to thank from the wine, spirits and cigar industry for their ongoing support. The best day of the year!”

Together, everyone involved in the Pro Am has achieved great things – an impressive $8.82 million raised since the event’s inception in 2009, which has helped lay the foundations and, in August 2015, open the doors to a state-of-the-art Els Center of Excellence dedicated to helping individuals and families on the autism spectrum.

For more information, please visit the website: www.elsforautism.com

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