The Champions Course at PGA National Resort and Spa served as the venue again this year for the third annual fundraising pro-am golf tournament for the Els for Autism Foundation. Twenty-one professional golfers and 63 amateurs teed it up on the course where the Honda Classic was held just three weeks ago. The wind was up again this year, but the course was in magnificent shape on a beautiful Florida spring day.
The tournament raised $720,000 for the Els Foundation, bringing the total for the three years since the event was launched to more than $2 million. The foundation's goal is the creation of a Center for Excellence that will focus on research to find a cure for autism and to provide an educational center for up to 300 children with autism.
"We are closer today where we want to be than ever before," Ernie Els told the attendees. "It is because of the tremendous support of the professional golfers and the tremendous support of everyone here today that we can say that."
The sponsors included Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, the Richemont Group, Callaway Golf and the PGA National Resort and Spa. Other sponsors included major wine and spirits industry companies, including Bacardi U.S.A., Brown-Forman, Deutsch & Sons, Diageo, Möet Hennessy, Pernod Ricard, Skyy Spirits and Terlato Wines, as well as wholesale distributors Republic National Distributing and the Charmer-Sunbelt Group. Other sponsors included SAP, a European software company, the PGA of America, CKX Inc., Millennium and Stonehage.
In addition to Els, the professional golfers who played in the tournament included U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Leonard, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Thomas Aiken, Luke Donald, Mark Calcavecchia, Robert Allenby, Steve Marino, Jeff Overton, Mathias Grönberg, K.J. Choi, Peter Jacobsen and David Frost, among others. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus also participated in the pro-am event.
The pro-am tournament was won by the team led by Cliff Kresge with a net score of 58; the other team members were Bob Courteau, Dave Pugh and Bob Curley, all part of a team from SAP. The team headed by pro golfer Peter Jacobsen and consisting of amateurs Michael Ignatowicz, Dave Gardner and Joe Taverrite, all of Möet Henessey, captured second place with a score of 60. And, pro Robert Allenby's team from Barnes & Noble, led by Len Riggio and including Starr Boggs and Lawrence Calagna, took third place with a score of 62 after winning a tiebreaker with two other teams.
The two other teams with 62s included Republic National Distributing with pro Justin Leonard, and amateurs Alan Dreeben, Marc Goodrich and Mike Keyes, and Diageo captained by Graeme McDowell with amateurs Carl Nolet Jr. of Ketel One, Bill Eldien, the president of Ketel One, and Steve Rust. The closest-to-the-hole contests were won by Marc Goodrich and Rob Bethel, and the longest drive prize went to Gerry Ruvo of Skyy Spirits.
During the day, four cigar companies—Rocky Patel, represented by Nish Patel; La Flor Dominicana with Tony, Litto and Inez Gomez; Alec Bradley with Alan Rubin and George Sosa; and Oliva Cigar Co.—handed out cigars around the course. Grey Goose, Ketel One, Flor de Caña rum and Jameson Irish Whiskey had drink booths set up along the 18 holes, and Möet Hennessy poured a rosé Champagne at the post-tournament barbecue.
The day was a huge success. All the golfers, both pros and amateurs, had a great time playing the tough Champions layout. And, at the end of the day, everyone was already talking about making plans for next year.
For more coverage and photographs of the event, be sure to pick up a copy of the June Cigar Aficionado, due to hit newsstands April 26.