VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Professional golfer Ernie Els, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, is in Virginia Beach to host the Els for Autism Pro-Am Invitational at the Princess Anne Country Club. The charity golf tournament benefits the Els for Autism Foundation, Ryan Owens Foundation, Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater (FACT) and the Virginia Autism Project.
"Between John Gibson and Steve (Dutch) Van Horn, they organized this whole day," Els told News 3. "They got the members involved and the money is going to some great charities."
"To put our groups together and raise some awareness and raise some funds for the Autism community is a special thing," Mark Llobell, founding member of the Virginia Autism Project said. "We're grateful Ernie is here and we're grateful we live in such a great community that has so many people that do such a good job of providing so much."
The Pro-Am commenced with a 1:00pm shotgun start. Prior to the tournament, Els, a four-time major champion conducted a golf exhibition. Just before the first tee shots were hit, all eyes were to the sky.
In January, Ryan Owens, a Navy Seal based in Virginia Beach, was killed in action. Monday, his widow and three children were on hand as F/A-18Es, part of the VFA-143 squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana, performed a four-ship missing man flyover in honor of Ryan. The tournament also provides funds to his foundation.
The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by Liezl and Ernie Els. The Els’ son Ben is impacted by the disorder which affects one in 68 children in the U.S. Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. with an estimated two million individuals affected. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. The 2017 Els for Autism Pro-Am Invitational will generate funds not only for the work of the Els for Autism Foundation but also local autism organizations in Hampton Roads.