‘This dream has been in the pipeline since 2009,’ Ernie Els announced at the 2015 opening of the Center for Excellence in Florida. ‘When the first kids, including our son Ben, walked through the door it was an incredibly special and proud moment. We have only reached this point thanks to the collective support of a huge number of individuals and organisations.’
Now, one year later, amazing things have been accomplished.
‘The kids are back in school and it is hard to believe we just celebrated the first anniversary of the official opening,’ Els said in September. ‘Not only are the students benefiting from the facilities on-site, but with various programming initiatives we are also helping many families nationally and internationally.’
The American-based centre is close to achieving its 2016 fundraising goal of $2.5-million, due largely to the Golf Challenge series, which is now in its sixth year. The events are sold out well in advance and raise large sums, such as the $220 000 made at Philadelphia Country Club in July.
‘A huge part of the reason we’re in this position is due to the ongoing success of the Golf Challenge,’ said Els on his website. ‘The feedback has been great from these events.’
Added to this was the unlikely $1-million Rickie Fowler earned by making a hole-in-one at Old Palm Golf Club in March. The American had changed out of his golf clothing, wore no glove, and borrowed a wedge from Luke Donald and a ball from Thomas Aiken.
‘I had nothing to lose, but it’s a small target. It was pretty cool to be able to do that for Ernie and the foundation,’ said Fowler, who took no practice swings before making an ace from 113 yards away.
Those contributions have enabled the Florida Center for Excellence to play an instrumental role in developing online courses. The Rethink First programme is a video-based tool that teaches parents Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), which is a series of procedures to improve social behaviour. ABA is adaptable and helps to break down skills into manageable portions, so that children on the autism spectrum get a personalised programme to follow. Rethink First is available worldwide and provides step-by-step videos showing parents how to use ABA and monitor their child’s progress.
It’s a massive help to the Els for Autism Centre in South Africa, which caters to over 150 families.
‘We’ve had a really good response to our seminars, broadcast online, and also available through our website,’ said Els, whose son Ben is on the autism spectrum.
There is also a South African series of golf days, which help to fund the centre in Braamfontein, along with the satellite office that opened earlier this year in Cape Town.
Anybody can tee up in these events and play for a chance to make the final at Highland Gate, where the winners get a spot in the SA Open pro-am and will meet The Big Easy.
Els is known as World Golf Hall of Famer and four-time Major champion, but his dedication to raising autism awareness has been tantamount in the last year.
The Center for Excellence continues to grow, and with it the support for families affected by autism.