Professional Golfer a Game Changer for Autism Community

Autism Warrior: Professional Golfer a Game Changer for Autism Community Warrior: Ernie Els, South African professional golfer, founder of the Els for Autism Foundation, along with Liezl Els and Marvin R. Shanken

Location: Jupiter, Florida

Accomplishments: Ernie Els has 70 professional career victories to his name, including four Major Championships, two World Golf Championships, and a record seven World Matchplay titles. Off the golf course, he has received many awards for his charitable endeavors:

  • Charlie Bartlett Award by the Golf Writers Association of America
  • Jefferson Award, essentially a Nobel Prize for Public Service, for outstanding athlete in service
  • Named one of the “Top Five Most Positive Athletes in the World” by the United Nations NGO Voting Academy
  • Golf Foundation Spirit of Golf Award for his achievements as a player, for his contribution to golf and commitment to young people in golf and education
  • Metropolitan Golf Writers Association (MGWA) Winnie Palmer Award for his foundation work on behalf of autism (The MGWA had previously conferred on Ernie its prestigious Gold Tee Award.)
  • Eighth recipient of the Denver-based Nicholson Award for “a lifetime commitment and dedication to the game of golf”
  • Payne Stewart Award in 2015
  • Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame—2011 Class

One of his accomplishments admired most by golf fans and parents alike is the establishment of the Els for Autism Foundation in 2009, along with his wife, Liezl Els and Marvin R. Shanken, chairman.

Inspiration: The Els’ son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism at five years old. In 2008, the family moved from their home base in London, England, to Jupiter, Fla. Overwhelmed at times by their son’s special needs, the couple conceived of a nurturing place to learn for those on the autism spectrum and provided six million dollars in seed money for the Els Center of Excellence. Fast forward to 2016, the foundation provided services for 3,647 individuals with ASD and their families from 13 countries, focusing on education, global outreach, therapy, research, recreation, and adult services.

Els for Autism Foundation’s goals:

  • To provide high-quality information, intervention, education, and support to local, state, national, and international families of diverse cultures
  • To provide programs based on best practices and develop innovative interventions through investigative study and analysis
  • To engage in research to further knowledge in the field of ASD
  • To establish funding required to sustain the mission and program goals through grants, donations, and events

Ernie Els’s advice for families affected by autism: “Autism hits families hard and I’ll be working for the rest of my life to help others in the same situation.  I hope you’ll share an interest and join me in building a better future for people with autism.”


This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions

Amy KD Tobik

Amy KD Tobik

Amy KD Tobik, A former Editor of Autism Parenting Magazine, an award-winning monthly international publication. She coordinates and manages an extensive group of doctors, autism specialists, and writers to create the most up-to-date news and professional guidance for families affected by autism. Magazine readers are from 30 countries, with the majority coming from the US and other English-speaking countries. A graduate of Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Amy's experience includes more than 30 years writing/editing newspapers, monthly magazines, technical documents/manuals, books, and websites. She and her husband have two adult daughters and live in the Carolinas.