Harbour Town Set to Host Els for Autism Golf Challenge

“The Big Easy” isn’t going to take it easy until the best children’s autism center in the world has been built.

Ernie Els, one of the most successful professional golfers in the world, is the driving force behind the Els Center of Excellence, a first-of-its-kind facility that will provide best practices, the latest information and research for all autistic children.

To help raise money for the center, Els and his wife Liezl are spearheading a golf tournament this month at Harbour Town Golf Links called the Els for Autism Golf Challenge.

The eight-time major winner learned his son Ben was autistic five years ago.

“We suspected for a few years that something was not quite right,” Els said. “There’s a process that every kid goes through. Crawl at nine months, walk at 12 months and then start talking and so on. With Ben, we started thinking, ‘Why is he not crawling? Why is he not walking? Why is he not looking me in the eye?’ Things like that.”

After a specialist explained Ben was severely touched with autism, Els vowed to fight for the rest of his life to try and help others in the same situation. Now, he is asking Hilton Head Island to join his fight.

The tournament starts at 10 a.m. on Sept. 10. Two-person teams will compete for a place at the grand finale, a two-day extravaganza of golf and entertainment hosted by Els and other PGA Tour players Oct. 19-20 in Las Vegas.
The low net team advances to the grand finale. Teams can also automatically qualify by raising $10,000 or more for the Els for Autism Foundation. Harbour Town is one of 30 regional sites the grand finale will draw from.

Els’ foundation has raised $1,303,230 since 2009. The goal is to raise $2,500,000 for the center, which Els hopes will open in 2015.

“One in 88 children is affected by autism and that was perhaps the most shocking thing about all of this; the number of people it affects,” Els said. “And you know, it hits the whole family hard. For a long time you are trying to figure out, ‘What just happened to my life?’ You feel sorry for yourself and for your kid and for your family. And the tragedy is that even in this day and age, the kid who has autism is often forgotten about.”

Ben was the reason Els moved his family base from London to West Palm Beach, Fla., home to some of the world’s best treatment centers. The move has been good for Els’ golf game, too, allowing him to practice all winter.
With his fourth major victory earlier this year, the 42-year-old South Africa native became just the sixth golfer in history to win the British Open twice and the U.S. Open twice. Els has 65 professional victories under his belt.
“The Big Easy” regularly plays Harbour Town Golf Links for the PGA Tour’s Heritage golf tournament. In 13 starts, Els has seven top 10 finishes here, earning $1,369,682.

The Els For Autism Golf Challenge is the largest charity-driven international golf tournament in history. Participating golfers will receive a gift bag, box lunch, use of Harbour Town’s practice facilities, locker room access, cocktail reception with heavy hors d'oeuvres and an awards presentation in the clubhouse. Registration is $600 per player.

What: Els For Autism Golf Challenge
When: 10 a.m., Sept. 10
Where: Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island
Cost: $600 per player
The skinny: Two-person teams compete for a place at the grand finale, a two-day extravaganza hosted by Ernie Els and other PGA Tour players Oct. 19-20 in Las Vegas.
More information: www.elsforautism.com/harbourtown


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