The distinctive pop of Champagne bottles being uncorked mixed with the steady smack of golf balls being launched into the sky. It was Monday morning in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and a field of pro golfers and eager amateurs were warming up for the Els for Autism Pro-Am on Monday morning at Old Palm Golf Club.
It was year 10 of this event, which raises money to help children with autism—and that heady occasion called for a toast. The group of 22 teams, each of them headed by a professional golfer, took to the practice green and surrounded Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine, to raise their glasses of bubbly as a team of bagpipers called the day to a start.
The day raised $1.1 million for the charity, pushing the ten-year total to $10 million. The Pro-Am is sponsored by Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines.
“It’s 10 years. It’s hard to believe,” Shanken said at the opening dinner on Sunday night. That event showed the crowd why they were here, as it was held on the grounds of the Els Center of Excellence, the school in Jupiter, Florida, created with the funds raised by this Pro-Am. Shanken founded the event and the charity with pro golfer Ernie Els and his wife, Liezl, whose son Ben has autism and is a student of the school. The site is a hub of education and information for autism, one of the most serious developmental disorders affecting children in the world today.
The pro golfers consisted of Jack Nicklaus, the most accomplished golfer in history, Els, Rory McIlroy, Nick Price, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Thomas Aiken, Peter Uihlein, Cameron Tringale, Robert Allenby, Heath Slocum, Jamie Lovemark, Keegan Bradley, Branden Grace, Tony Finau, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas, Bud Cauley, Peter Malnati, Marc Leishman and Jon Curran.
For the many cigar smokers on the course, fine cigars abounded. Alec Bradley offered a broad range of its cigars, including the Alec Bradley Prensado (a former Cigar Aficionado cigar of the year), Coyol and Tempus Natural. La Flor Dominicana had plenty of its La Flor Dominicana Coronado Double Coronas, Oliva Cigar Co. had Serie V cigars and Padrón cigars offered a choice of milder Dámasos or stouter Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivos. At the dinner the night prior, a cigar lounge was offered, featuring cigars from Arturo Fuente, EPC Cigar Co., Joya de Nicaragua and Villiger.
Refreshments were provided by Grey Goose, Ketel One, Belvedere Vodka, Herradura Tequila, Glenlivet Scotch and Wines of Australia.
Two teams tied for the lowest score, shooting a 56: In a tiebreaker, victory went to the team headed by pro Robert Allenby and consisting of Jeff Branson and Ryan Bibbo of Bacardi USA, and Sean Eckhardt of Southern Glazer’s. Johann Rupert, CEO of Richemont, golf pro Louis Oosthuizen, Rurik Gobel and Scott Mahoney came in second.
“It’s things like this that put life into reality,” said Allenby after the event. “What Ernie and Liezl are doing is mind blowing. They’re all about helping others, and the school is unbelievable. It’s beyond what anyone dreamed. I play in a lot of these, and I always feel privileged to be part of it.”
“You work hard, you’re busy, but to take the time out and contribute to a cause like this makes it all worthwhile,” said Branson.
“You’re changing lives,” Els said to all the golfers at the luncheon concluding the event. “When we moved here, Ben didn’t want to go to school. Now he loves to go to school. Thank you very much.”