Els plans charity events for autistic children

Ernie Els

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HONOLULU – Ernie Els now has a charity event for amateurs that will reward fundraising skills as much as good golf, hopeful it can raise upward of $3 million to help build a center for autistic children.

It’s called the “Els For Autism Golf Challenge,” and it will involve at least 32 tournaments across the country featuring two-player teams that qualify depending on how much money they raise for the project.

Els, a three-time major champion and one of golf’s most popular figures worldwide, disclosed in March 2008 that his 8-year-old son, Ben, has autism. A year later, the South African announced plans to build the “Els for Autism Center of Excellence” in South Florida to be a research and education facility for children with autism.

“Years from now, people may remember me as a golfer and a major champion,” Els said. “But I’d like also to be remembered as somebody who took the issue of autism and did something with it.”

He already holds a pro-am during the Florida swing that includes prominent players and last year raised just over $1 million.

A family friend, Alex Chehansky, presented an idea that would go beyond that. With support of his major corporate sponsors and the TPC network, Els hopes to raise at least $3 million in the first year.

Instead of paying an entry fee, the two-player teams must raise at least $2,500 toward Els for Autism. The team with the lowest net score and the team that raises the most money will advance to the finals in Las Vegas. Also advancing will be any team that can raise at least $10,000.

The finalists will join Els and his wife, Leizl, in Las Vegas for two rounds. Prizes range from luxury golf and win tours in South Africa to a six-day golf trip to Ireland.

Chehansky said some of the corporate partners, such as Callaway Golf and SAP, have matching fund programs. He also said teams would be expected to donate the equivalent of the greens fee at the golf course they play. He said courses in the TPC network have agreed to take part in the charity event.

Els said he is closing in on a site for the autism center, which is expected to cost $30 million.

“This will help a lot,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of other things in the pipeline. This year I want to get the site, and by the start of next year, I want to start building.”

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