Velocity Global, the Official Global Work Platform of the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour (LET), is proud to sponsor the Velocity Global Impact Award. This honor will celebrate players who have helped to grow the sport of golf and to inspire the next generation of athletes to have a positive impact on the world.
Throughout each season, the LPGA and LET will celebrate players and their efforts in giving back to the world and their local communities off the golf course. Toward the end of each season, the LPGA will produce a list of nominees, and the Velocity Global Impact Award Committee will name three players as Award finalists. Each finalist will be featured in a docuseries-style content piece sharing their personal story and impact on the game. The winner will be determined through a combination of a fan vote and voting by the committee, and will be announced annually on International Women’s Day, March 8.
Austin Ernst – Helping South Carolina Families in Need of a Safe Harbor
Austin Ernst followed a remarkable amateur career as the 2011 NCAA Division I individual champion in 2011 with her first LPGA Tour victory at the 2014 Portland Classic. So when she decided to start giving back, she relied on the same process that fueled her success in golf.
She researched thoroughly and made it a family affair.
Through that research and after talking to her family about their South Carolina community, Ernst found out that her state, and particularly her home Oconee County, had some of the worst numbers in the country in terms of victims of domestic violence.
“When I was growing up, I had friends in school who were going home to a situation like that, and I had no idea,” said Ernst about the startling revelation that propelled her to support Safe Harbor, a domestic violence agency serving upstate South Carolina and providing services for victims and their children. Ernst started an annual charity pro-am that is held at various courses around her home area, with all funds going directly to Safe Harbor.
“South Carolina is very high in the nation for the number of women that are killed,” said Amanda Manly, Director of Development and Communications at Safe Harbor. “It is cultural, and it is really a generational cycle of abuse that we are working to break with our programs.”
Ernst praises the amazing work and impact of Safe Harbor through their shelter for victims and their children. She remembers clearly one of her first interactions at the shelter: “She was talking about leaving her house in the middle of the night with her two kids and just a little plastic bag with their belongings. Every story is just heartbreaking.”
“On average it takes a victim eight to 10 tries before they can get out,” explains Manly. “Imagine to completely end your life overnight and start over from scratch. It takes so much strength and courage.
”Wishing the shelter was “one of those things that was not needed,” Ernst has witnessed the strength of the victims of domestic violence assisted by the program. “You have to be a very strong person to withstand that situation and pull yourself out of it,” said Ernst, who also involved in Safe Harbor’s prevention programs.
“It begins with a pattern of power and control. When the violence starts the person is already in a deep relationship with her abuser and it becomes really hard to extricate themselves,”
said Manly, underlining the importance of prevention and educating young people about warning signs.
“They are telling girls and boys about those signs of power and control, and they learn that they need to lookout for those things that they normally would not pay attention to,” said Ernst, who keeps in touch with Safe Harbor and tries to help as much as she can.
Through 2019, Ernst had raised almost $500,000 for Safe Harbor through the six editions of her annual golf event before it was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has been so much fun over the years to work with Austin on her event. She has brought around 30 different LPGA players from all across the country who are squeezing this charity tournament in their busy schedules,” said Manly, who looking forward to the return of the event after the delay caused by the pandemic.
“It is a really fun day,” said Ernst, who has convened the support of her friends on the LPGA Tour, top players including Morgan Pressel, Jessica and Nelly Korda, Alison Lee and Angela Stanford. “We split in groups of four for a little bit of friendly competition. And the night before everybody gathers around dinner to support Safe Harbor. It is a fun way to raise money.”
According to Manly, it is remarkable to see such a close group of professional golfers embrace their cause. “You can tell they have such great relationships with each other. The spend the day with our sponsors and our donors really putting their all into it,” she added.
While hoping to bring the event back in 2023, Ernst is focusing on recovering from a neck injury and working with her “family team” to come back to competition at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Championship, the inaugural event of the 2023 LPGA Tour season.
“It has been great to have my brother caddy for most of my career, my dad always as my coach, and my husband able to travel with me most weeks,” said Ernst about her brother Drew Ernst, her father Mark Ernst (Director of Golf at Cross Creek Plantation in Seneca, South Carolina), and her husband Jason Dods.
“All three of my wins have been with my brother on my bag and my dad as my coach. My husband got to be there for my last two wins,” said Ernst about her victories at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2020 and the LPGA Drive on Championship in 2021.
Her return to competition will be again a family affair, as will be her efforts to put together another fundraising event. For now, she wants to remind her friends on the LPGA and anybody that wants to support Safe Harbor and their work on domestic violence to donate directly to them.