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Els for Autism Golf Challenge raises $6.5 million in three years

(L to R): Liezl and Ernie Els with Thierry Prissert of Breilting USA

October 28, 2013

PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spearheaded by World of Golf Hall of Fame member and Els for Autism founder, Ernie Els, The Els for Autism Golf Challenge has raised $6.5 million for autism thanks to more than 5,000 rounds of golf and over 15,000 donors pledging funds since its inaugural 2011 series. Nearly $2.5 million was raised this year alone, making the 2013 challenge the most successful to date.
   
The golf challenge, an international, season-long, amateur golf series comprising of over 20 events across the U.S. and Canada, hosted its 2013 Grand Finale in Las Vegas on October 13-14. After six months of competition, both on and off the golf course, Ernie announced the highest fundraising teams at an awards ceremony and South African Braai hosted by presenting sponsor SAP.

This year, Tim Shreckengost and Steve Sheppard of Team Lucas’ Steps topped the tournament’s donation leaderboard with an incredible $46,322.25 and were awarded The Els Cup by Ernie and Liezl Els, in recognition of their outstanding achievement. Team Lucas’ Steps, from Sheffield, Iowa, who have been high fundraisers in the Golf Challenge for three years running, were also awarded an additional accolade for being the first team to raise a phenomenal $100,000 through the Golf Challenge since its inception in 2011.

“The inspiration behind our team is our honorary captain and nephew, Lucas Stanbrough," said Team Lucas' Steps. "Lucas was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of three, he is now seven and a half years old and has just started second grade. Lucas continues to amaze us as he continues to grow each day, absorbing everything he sees and hears. We are so fortunate to have Lucas in our lives as we continue to learn, as does he, the world of autism. Whether or not there is ever a cure, with continued research and education we will help all children and families with autism grow into inspirational adults."

Runners-up in the fundraising competition included John McGuire of Team Goldman for Payton, last year’s highest fundraising team and winner of The Els Cup. John, from Summit N.J., was also singled out to receive special recognition for raising over $100,000 though the Golf Challenge series since its creation.

They were followed by Team Joel Baxter, led by Robert and Dorothy Marziotto, of Jupiter, Fla., while an honorable mention went to Team MJ made up of Marshall McAnerney, Dave McAnerney and John Ryan from British Columbia, Canada.

The Grand Finale weekend itself proved an unforgettable experience for all the teams who stepped up to the challenge to help Ernie in his fight against autism. Finalists not only experienced a remarkable series of speakers at the Annual Els for Autism seminar but they enjoyed tournament golf at the area’s most prestigious courses including the opportunity to see Ernie and some of his friends from the PGA TOUR in action.

All teams that raised $30,000 or more were also made part of an exclusive Golden Circle Club for the event, qualifying them for a range of unique privileges including an invitation to an exclusive VIP Champagne Reception hosted by Breitling.  The top three low net teams at each of the Finale tournaments hosted at TPC Las Vegas and Rio Secco, were invited to choose from a grab bag of amazing trips. Prizes included a seven-day trip of a lifetime to Southern Africa with Business Class flights provided by Giltedge Africa and South African Airways, as well as an Ultimate IRISH LINKS Golf Tour to Ireland, plus trips to Chile, England, Santorini and Orlando provided by Mantis.

Finalists were treated to clinics featuring PGA TOUR stars Ernie Els, Rich Beem, Mike Weir and Bud Cauley; with commentary provided by leading golf instructor Claude Harmon III, and Golf Channel commentator, Todd Lewis. Other sport stars attending the events included Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie ‘Mr. October‘ Jackson, as well as major winner Ben Curtis and PGA TOUR players Charlie Beljan, Billy Hurley and Brooks Koepke.

An autism seminar and one of the foundation’s new #GameON Autism Youth Golf Clinics was also hosted at Rio Secco alongside the Finale tournament; and was attended by both Ernie and Liezl Els. Approximately 45 children from local autism schools were invited to take part in the clinic that was hosted by The PGA of America, The First Tee and Els for Autism. The clinic was one of over 20 clinics that were hosted at challenge host courses across the U.S. from April-September; providing local autism communities with access to free golf clinics. The clinic program was designed to develop life skills, encourage social interaction, promote healthy living and create lasting memories for children and young adults on the autism spectrum.

Els, whose 11-year old son Ben is severely touched by autism, and who founded the Els for Autism Foundation in 2009 with his wife Liezl, said “I want to congratulate all of the teams for their magnificent fundraising efforts this year, in particular Team Lucas’ Steps, this year’s winners of The Els Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to thank them for their phenomenal support, not just this year but for the last three years. The passion and dedication that this team brings to the event series each year absolutely captures the spirit of the Golf Challenge; they are an inspirational group of people.

“Thanks to the magnificent support that the Challenge has received the Foundation is set for its most exciting year to date in 2014, with the ground-breaking for the Center of Excellence scheduled for Spring," he added.  "In the meantime, 2013 has had its own successes with the launch of the #GameON Autism clinic program. I was lucky enough to attend and help with one of the clinics at the Finale in Las Vegas and the positive impact that this clinic had on the kids was something very special to witness.”

Funds raised from the Golf Challenge go towards the creation of a virtual and physical Els Center of Excellence. The state-of-the-art Center to be built in Jupiter, Fla., is scheduled to break ground in Spring 2014. The Center will provide a uniquely designed educational program for children on the autism spectrum ages 3-21, as well as a physical hub for a multi-faceted global outreach program that will make therapeutic best practices available to children on the autism spectrum, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Organizing sponsors for the Els for Autism Golf Challenge included SAP, Callaway, RBC, Wine Spectator Breitling USA and the Trump Organization.  Contributing Sponsors for the series include Boeing, Mantis, Floridian, South African Airways, Troon North Golf Club, Scarboro Golf & Country Club, IRISH LINKS, Maui Jim, Thommy Jay, TPC, Golf Magazine, The Globe & Mail, The Hyatt Regency Orlando and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

For more information regarding the Els for Autism Golf Challenge, please visit elsforautism.com.

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