$800,000 Raised At Second Annual Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament

Twenty-two professional golfers, including Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, and 66 amateur golf aficionados teed it up Monday for the second annual Els for Autism charity pro-am golf tournament on the Champion course at PGA National Golf Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. While the wind was up, it was a spectacular day of golf and camaraderie in the name of helping find a cure for the epidemic of autism in children. The day's good vibes were enhanced by the victory of host Ernie Els on Sunday at the World Golf Championship-CA Championship at the Doral Golf Resort in Miami.

Between the live auction at the pairings dinner on Sunday night and the contributions made by the corporate sponsors of the event, more than $800,000 was raised for the Els for Autism Foundation. The foundation was created last year by Ernie and Liezl Els, with the help of Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines. The main goal of the foundation is to build a Center for Excellence in Florida dedicated to the education of autistic children, and to fund new research into the causes of autism, and develop new treatments for the disorder. The organization's goal is to raise $30 million for the center. Els has already committed $6 million to the cause, and is actively seeking donors.

Ernie Els tees off at the second annual Els for Autism pro-am at PGA National.

"Liezl and I are foreigners in your country," said Els, a native of South Africa and now a resident of the United States, "and this is the kind of generosity that you show. It is simply unbelievable. Words cannot express how we feel." Els revealed to the world in 2008 that his then 5-year-old son Ben was autistic.

Els also directly thanked the professional golfers who took part in the day's events because he knew that Monday is usually an off day for them as they head to their next tournament. The PGA Tour professionals who took part included Els, Steve Stricker (the world's number two-ranked golfer), Charl Schwartzl, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Justin Leonard, Rory Sabbatini, and Briny Baird, among others. Two legends of the game, Jack Nicklaus, who holds more major victories than any other golfer, and Raymond Floyd, who won four major championships, also played, as did Champions Tour regulars Bruce Fleisher, Bob Murphy and Fuzzy Zoeller.

The cosponsors of the event were M. Shanken Communications and the Richemont Group, with its chairman Johann Rupert. Corporate sponsors included Bacardi, Barnes & Noble, Brown-Forman, Callaway Golf, Diageo, Moët Hennessey, Patrón Spirits, PGA National, The Related Group, Royal Bank of Canada, Robert Talbott, Skyy Spirits, and the PGA.

The star-studded group of PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Hall of Fame golfers who gave up their rest day to band together to find a cure for autism at the second annual Els for Autism pro-am.

The live auction lots, which raised $145,000, included a golfing safari trip to South Africa provided by Mantis and South African Airways, an Irish golf odyssey provided by Irish Links, a golf cart by Club Car and Solar Drive, and a round of golf with Ernie Els.

Five cigar companies also pitched in, donating cigars to ease everyone through the day. The companies in attendance included Arturo Fuente, represented by Wayne Suarez; La Flor Dominicana, with co-owners Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez; Padrón Cigars Inc. with Marcos Padrón; Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc.; Alan Rubin, the owner of Alec Bradley Cigar Co.; and Cory Bappert, a senior account executive with Oliva Cigar Co.

By the end of the day, as food was served at the awards ceremony (the team of Bruce Fleisher/Bill Deutsch won the pro-am competition), everyone in attendance recognized that they were part of a serious effort to help cure autism. Everyone was already on board for next year.

Click here to read about how Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken conceived the idea for the charity golf tournament.

Click here for coverage of last year's Els for Autism tournament.

Click here to see a video about last year's Els for Autism tournament.