The numbers are staggering: One in 88 children in the U.S. are now diagnosed with autism or related conditions. One of them, Ben Els, is the son of one of the world’s most famous professional golfers: Ernie Els, winner of the 2012 British Open, and the momentum behind his “Els for Autism” foundation.
The popular South African, known as the “Big Easy” for his smooth swing, will play in the RBC Heritage
, April 15-21 at Hilton Head Island’s Harbour Town Golf Links
, and tournament organizers will team up with Els for Autism during the week – both to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorders and to raise funds to help build the Els Center of Excellence, which will serve people ages 3-21 living with the condition.
Friday, April 19, has been designated Autism Awareness Day at the RBC Heritage, with PGA Tour players and spectators encouraged to wear the color blue, which is part of the blue-and-white awareness “puzzle pins” worn by Els and others involved in the cause. Also, players, spectators, volunteers and media members will be able to receive their own pins, with a donation of $5 per pin encouraged.
Pins will be available at the first and 10th tees on Friday, and spectators can pick up pins – and speak with Els for Autism representatives – at the Heritage Classic Foundation tent between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day. Sponsors RBC and the Heritage Classic Foundation already have purchased pins for tournament volunteers, corporate guests and participants in the event’s Wednesday Pro-Am.
Els, meanwhile, will carry a blue lion’s head cover on his driver to signify April as Autism Awareness Month.
“Since (wife) Liezl and I announced that our son was touched by autism five years ago, we have been blown away by the support we have received, especially from the golf community,” said Els, who thanked the RBC Heritage for its support in helping raise awareness. “The RBC Heritage has always been one of my favorite stops on (the PGA Tour schedule) and one that I always try to bring the whole family to. This year, it’s going to be even more special.”
For more information, call (843) 671-2448 or go to www.rbcheritage.com
. Information on Els for Autism events in April is available at www.elsforautism.com/april
, or follow on Twitter at @ElsForAutism #RBCHeritageAutism, or on Facebook (Ernie Els).