Pro Golfer, Ernie Els is Determined to Make a Difference for Autism
When it comes to taking strides towards improving treatment for autistic individuals, there are a host of different ways that people can help out. From the scientists and doctors that work to understand the disease on a biological level, to therapists and caregivers that pioneer methods to help autistic individuals learn to cope better with the world around them, to the autistic individuals themselves that give testament to what their experience is like, there’s plenty of room to contribute.
In the ongoing fight to create a better world for autistic individuals, one man, pro golfer, father, and now advocate Ernie Els finds himself at the crossroads of several different identities, and has been using his platform and experience to motivate positive change.
Ernie Els was born in 1969 in Johannesburg, South Africa. At 6’3”, Els possesses an imposing frame that’s been helping him build a name for himself in the professional golf world since 1989. At the young age of 20, Els secured his first significant victory as a golfer when he won the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Just 5 years later in 1994, Els went on to win the U.S. Open which cemented his place as an oncoming force to be reckoned with in pro golf. A few years later, in 1998, Ernie married his now wife of 20 years, Liezl Els. Together the couple have two children.
While Ernie’s story might center primarily around his enormous success as a professional golfer, his life has certainly been multifaceted. He’s participated in work designing and refurbishing golf courses around the world, helped spread golf’s popularity to the international stage, and founded the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation in 1999 which provides assistance and resources for underprivileged youth who show promise in the game of golf. In the midst of all of these activities, on top of his long and successful career as an athlete himself may seem impressive, one of Ernie’s most important missions is much more personal.
Ernie and Liezl’s 15-year old son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism as a child. In an attempt to help their son cope with a world that can often be difficult to navigate for non-neurotypical individuals, the Els have become advocates for autism research and treatment, and they’ve also used their fame and resources to provide significant advancements in the field.
Els Center of Excellence
As a result of seeing the needs that his own son faced, Ernie Els with his wife Liezl founded the Els Center of Excellence in August of 2015. The facility is located in Jupiter, Florida and it’s impressive both in its scale and in the resources that it offers to individuals and families. The Center of Excellence is spread across 26 acres. It includes two charter schools, one for children ages 3-14 and one for students 14-21, a golf course, sensory garden used for therapies, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, an auditorium that can host speakers and group therapies, and pavilion that is used for a wide variety of events throughout the years. On top of that, the Foundation’s staff is also housed at the Center of Excellence campus.
Read on to learn more about Ernie Els's mission.
Photo: Ernie Els by Omar Rawlings