KINGSPORT — Rain soaked the course but failed to dampen the spirits of players in Monday’s inaugural Kresge’s Krew Foundation Charity Pro- Am at Ridgefields Country Club.
Host Cliff Kresge, a PGA Tour player and member at Ridgefields, was gratified with the response for the event put together to raise money and awareness for autism.
“This is all pretty incredible,’’ said Kresge, whose son Mason has autism. “I got a little emotional last night (Sunday) at the dinner.
“After what my family has been through, we wanted to help other families who are touched by autism,’’ he added. “Those folks need a great deal of help.
“What we’ve learned from putting this tournament together is there are a lot of really good people in this area. It’s my second home and I’m really excited about being a part of the community.’’
The field of professionals on hand for the tournament included Ernie Els, whose son Ben also has autism.
“Cliff has been very active in organizing this event,’’ said Els, who is 22nd on the FedEx Cup points list and will play in this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta starting Thursday. “Both our families are affected by autism. We’re like one big family, I help him and he helps me.’’
Els went public with his son’s autism last year.
“We have to get to the bottom of what causes autism,’’ Els said. “Going public makes a statement that we are ready to fight it. The response has been overwhelming.’’
Fred Funk, who is third on the Champions Tour money list, was also at Ridgefields to lend a hand for Kresge.
“Golf is unique in its ability to raise money for charities,’’ Funk said. “It’s the nature of the sport. You can put players of all abilities together for a round of golf and so much good can come from it.
“I’d known Cliff for quite a while and didn’t know his son had autism,’’ Funk added. “When he called, I was glad to make the trip over here to help out.’’
Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA Championship winner, and former Ridgefields head pro David Gardner, the Kresge’s Krew tournament director, go way back.
“David was my first teaching pro when I was 11,’’ Micheel said. “When he called, I was more than glad to come and be a part of this special event.
“I do a Make-a-Wish Foundation event of my own so I know how important it is to get involved in these types of events,’’ Micheel added. “Cliff’s a great guy and doing good things.’’
Other touring pros on hand for Monday’s event included Von Taylor, Mark Wilson, Danny Briggs, Deane Pappas, Mark McNulty, D.A. Points, Steve Marino, Chris Stroud, Jeff Overton, David Frost, Johnson Wagner, Brendan Todd, Will McKenzie, Matt Bettencourt, Mike Hulbert and Dennis Watson.
To learn more about autism, go online at autism-society.org or autismspeaks.org.