Two years ago, Carter Bonas was a different person. Even though he was just 8, he had suicidal thoughts.
Today, the 10-year-old golfer with autism is thought of as a role model for those on that spectrum after starting his own golf clothing company.
This week at the Chubb Classic presented by SERVPRO at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Bonas received a behind-the-scenes tour, along with his parents Eddie and Dr. Thelma Tennie.
They met two-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, who has his own foundation supporting those with autism. Els’s son Ben, 19, is on the spectrum.
Carter Bonas, 10, has autism and launched his own apparel line, Spectrum Golf, as a source of inspiration to others. Bonas met Ernie Els on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, during the second day of the Chubb Classic Pro-Am at the Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida
And Friday, Bonas was an honorary observer, along with his golf instructor Corey Henry of the Country Club of Coral Springs, walking with Els and fellow tour pros Bernhard Langer and Retief Goosen.
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“It’s going to be amazing,” Bonas said before the round. “I would just like to thank everyone.”
Spectrum Golf started by 10-year-old Carter Bonas
Bonas started his company, Spectrum Golf, when he was 10, and only got into the game a couple of years ago.
“I chose golf because it was a sport that I felt like I could take my time and the coach didn’t yell, I didn’t get touched, and I got to be with nature most of the time,” he said.
Bonas’ acceptance in the golf world has been so important, particularly considering where he was just two years ago.
“It means the world to us to be able to see him in a positive light, such a big change from two years ago when he actually had suicidal ideation,” Thelma Tennie said, “to go from always feeling down about himself and believing the bad things that people would say about him.
Carter Bonas, 10, has autism and launched his own apparel line, Spectrum Golf, as a source of inspiration to others.
“Now he knows that people say mean things and it’s OK, and how to just do your best and what really matters is you, your performance, how you respond to things and to always be kind no matter what. When someone’s being mean, you walk away or you just be kind back.”
Thoughts of life without parents prompts inspired Carter Bonas
Part of the inspiration for Bonas to start his own company came from wondering what his life was going to be if something happened to his parents. The Tennies simply reassured him he would be taken care of, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the conversations became a bit more serious, to the point they shared their wills and trust information with him.
Bonas wasn’t satisfied, though, simply with knowing that his parents’ assets would be passed on to him.
“He didn’t just say, ‘Oh, you’re going to leave me money’ or ‘OK, you’re going to leave me the house,’” Thelma Tennie said. “He went a step further and said ‘But what am I going to do for work? What am I going to do? Nobody’s going to hire me because I can’t even get a friend. No one’s going to hire me.’
“Now he has something where he knows he’s going to be employed, and how hard he works is how good his business will be. and he’s made so many great friends on the golf course.”
Carter Bonas, 10, and his golf instructor Corey Henry, of the Country Club of Coral Springs, walk off the tee box on the first hole during the first round of the Chubb Classic, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.
What’s to love about golf? Etiquette, core values
What Bonas and his parents also love about the game is its emphasis on etiquette and the core values taught by The First Tee, a nonprofit organization that passes along those values through the game of golf.
“Even when he’s with other kids and he’s golfing, everyone is always kind,” Thelma Tennie said. “They’re always respectful. ‘Good shot.’ ‘The next one will be best.’ ‘Remember the next shot, don’t focus on this shot.’”
“The etiquette, the core values of The First Tee that we got to hear (Thursday), that’s Carter.”
Bonas said he chose golf apparel for his company for more than just his interest in the game.
“We were paying lots of money that clothes that were supposed to be comfortable,” he said. “I have sensitive skin and those clothes weren’t comfortable. We decided to get my own so I could have my own clothing line so I could always be comfortable.”
The clothing also has messages, for example, inside the waistline on pants, that says either “Lead the Way” or “Be Determined.”
Carter Bonas, 10, the “Honorary Observer” with the Ernie Els (RSA) group talks with Els on the first hole during the first round of the Chubb Classic, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.
“You always want to stay positive on the golf course,” Bonas said of the meaning of the messages. “It’s physical, but I think it’s mainly mental.”
Carter Bonas’ drive impresses Ernie Els
The Els for Autism Foundation is in nearby Jupiter, but Els had heard of Bonas and his story on YouTube, and is more than impressed, not only for the accomplishment of a 10-year-old starting a business in and of itself but what it could mean for others with autism.
“What he’s done, it’s just unbelievable,” Els said. “He started a company at 10 years of age because he didn’t feel like he was fitting into our society. How incredible is that?”
Thursday as part of Bonas’ behind-the-scenes tour, Els took him through the fitness trailer that travels to stops on the PGA Tour Champions for each event. He also toured the Golf Channel compound, the SHOTLINK truck, the equipment trailer, and did the Conditioned Air Putting Challenge.
Later, he attended a clinic along with First Tee Champions Challenge participants on the driving range.
Els is hoping this isn’t his only encounter with Bonas and his parents. In April, Els’ facility will have a groundbreaking for an adult services building and has invited them to attend.
“Exactly what Carter has done himself we’re going to try to facilitate for our kids who have autism,” Els said. “At the age of 21, the buck stops. You have to get back to normal society whether you’re comfortable or not.
“Carter has now shown what can be done in the autistic world. We’re going to create jobs, help kids get more comfortable with our way of life.”
Two years ago, Carter Bonas had thoughts of taking his life. Now, at 10, he’s inspiring others to do what he’s already doing.
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at email@example.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/