Cape Town - A near-death experience when Ernie Els was just starting his career certainly gave the four-time Major champion an appreciation for the value of life. And it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s since become one of golf’s most ardent supporters of charity.
Many of South Africa’s professional golfers play with a purpose in the sense of their support for various charities, from the Birdies for Rhinos campaign to the Sunshine Tour and its Vodacom Origins of Golf series of tournaments supporting Birdies for Babies, to Gary Player’s own prodigious efforts to raise funds for underprivileged children through his Gary Player Invitational series of tournaments.
Els has long been amongst the forerunners here in terms of giving back through golf.
For the past 25 years, Els has been a strong supporter of the Sanlam Cancer Challenge and its bid to rally South Africa’s amateur golfers behind the cause of raising funds for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).
In recent years, this has extended to Els personally meeting with the winners of the Sanlam Cancer Challenge National Finals, sometimes playing a round of golf with them and then treating them to an Ernie Els Experience including a tour of his wine farm and a meal at his Big Easy Restaurant in Stellenbosch.
“It’s a pleasure to continue my association with this great event. Cancer has affected friends or family of nearly everyone you meet these days, and through the Sanlam Cancer Challenge and other projects that raise funds for cancer treatment and research, hopefully combatting this disease can become a reality,” says the four-time Major champion, who appreciates how easily his life could have taken a different turn many years ago.
Els and fellow professional and now his business development manager Nico van Rensburg were driving through Swaziland early in their careers to play in the Swaziland Open. It was early evening and Els had just put on his safety belt again after crossing the border when they came over a rise and hit a tractor and its trailer standing dead still in the middle of the road.
“Ernie took a bad knock on his head when he hit the windscreen. If he hadn’t put his safety belt on, I don’t think he would’ve been here today,” recalls Van Rensburg.
Van Rensburg says they were still busy collecting themselves when Els shouted for him to get away from the car.
“We scrambled away from the car just before another car came over the hill and rammed right into the back of us,” he says.
This year’s Sanlam Cancer Challenge has already teed off with the nationwide club competitions. The National Final will be played at Sun City on October 9-10 on the Gary Player Country Club and Lost City Golf Club courses.
One of the many highlights for the amateurs who qualify for the National Final is the personal video address delivered by Els at the official dinner.
As he thanks the roomful of golfers for their support,
there’s a definite sense that Els is equally grateful to still be in a position
to be giving back through the game he loves.