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Els for Autism Golf Challenge raises close to $12 million in five years

Ben and Ernie Els during the 2015 Els for Autism Grand Finale held November 13-15 in Las Vegas.
(photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

November 24, 2015

JUPITER, Fla.– Spearheaded by World Golf Hall of Fame member 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, 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 including presenting sponsor SAP, in conjunction with 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, presented by the PGA TOUR.

Ernie announced the top fundraising teams of the 2015 Els for Autism Golf Challenge in Las Vegas at during the 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 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.

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.

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 Golf Club.

To learn more about Els for Autism, please visit elsforautism.com.

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