Cigar Aficionado

Els for Autism Pro-Am Raises $892,000

The fifth annual Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am raised $892,000 for autism research on a sunny but windy day in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Sixty-six amateur golfers and a star-studded group of 22 pro golfers gathered at the Champions Course at PGA National Resort on March 11 to lend support to Ernie and Liezl Els, who are leading a crusade to build the Center for Excellence, a school and research center in West Palm Beach, Florida, to help kids with autism and find a cure for the disease.

The money raised at this pro-am pushed the total funds raised during the events to nearly $4 million. With the contributions of this pro-am, started by Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, and other activities of the foundation, Els for Autism has raised more than $15 million, more than half of the $30 million that it will take to finish the school.

“With the help of everyone here,” Ernie Els said, “this is not just a dream anymore. It is becoming a reality. Without you here today, this would not be happening.”

Several companies participated in the event, including the Richemont Group, represented by its owner, Johann Rupert, Bacardi, Moët Hennessy USA, Pernod Ricard, Republic National Distributing, Diageo, Royal Bank of Canada, Millennium, Glazer’s, Southern Wine & Spirits, Terlato Wines, Banfi, Stongehage, SAP USA, Deutsch & Sons, Charmer Sunbelt and Campari America. Teams were also purchased by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Milken and the Sebonack Golf Club. PGA National, which donates the use of the course, also fielded a team.

The pros who played in the event included some of the biggest names in golf. In addition to Els, there was Rory McIlroy, Raymond Floyd, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Mark Calcavecchia, Keegan Bradley, Geoff Ogilvy, Justin Hicks, Luke Donald, Tedd Potter Jr., Robert Allenby, Brett Quigley, Nicolas Colsaerts, Branden Grace and Charlie Beljan.


The tournament was won by a team anchored by pro golfer Adam Scott, and included Steve Rust of Diageo, Carl Nolet Jr. and Bill Eldien of Ketel One vodka; they shot a net 58. The second-place team was led by Tedd Potter Jr., who was joined by Ted Virtue, Dani Virtue and Tony Virtue, the team sent to the tournament by Michael Milken—they shot a 60. The third-place team of Willie McGirt also shot 60, but lost the tie-breaker; the team consisted of Stuart Makin, Eddie Jordan and Marie Jordan. The closest-to-the-hole contests were won by Marie Jordan and Neil Moffitt. The longest-drive winner was Dani Virtue.

At the opening pairings party on Sunday night, Alan Dreeben of Republic National Distributing made a $100,000 contribution to the Foundation, and Rudy and Judith Giuliani contributed $25,000. Five people also bought autographed Tour Golf Bags for $5,000 each with Ernie Els’s name, and signed by all the pros who played in the event.

The highlight of the dinner event was a panel consisting of star golfers Raymond Floyd, Nick Price and Ernie Els (who have won a combined 11 major championships) moderated by the Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte. The Hall of Fame golfers discussed everything from the debate over belly putters to their favorite moments in their careers. They each talked about Tiger Woods and whether or not he was returning to his top form of the early 2000s. The consensus was that while Woods is certainly getting closer to his former excellence, he is still not there. And Floyd predicted Woods would not break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 victories in the major golf tournaments.