AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Celebrity golf tournament tops attendance record for second year in a row | TahoeDailyTribune.com

AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Celebrity golf tournament tops attendance record for second year in a row

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

STATELINE – With single-day attendance records on Thursday and Saturday, the American Century Championship was positioned to break the tournament spectator total for the second year in a row.

The record became a reality on Sunday during the celebrity golf tournament’s final round, even though the sparkling play of winner Billy Joe Tolliver removed the suspense from the title chase. Tolliver won the 54-hole tournament by a record 19 points.

The six-day tournament attracted 37,550 fans – the second consecutive year that the event topped the 37,000 mark.

Last year’s record-setting total was 37,205.

Triggering the record was a new single-day attendance mark of 11,000 fans for Saturday’s second round. An estimated 4,000 star watchers spent the round on the beach and hundreds of boats lined the picturesque 17th and 18th holes.

“We were concerned with the overlapping of our event and the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open, but the most recognizable field in golf and one of golf’s most picturesque settings drove our attendance figures beyond our expectations,” said ACC tournament director Michael Milthorpe.

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For the first time, the RTO moved its four-day tournament to the same week as the ACC. The switch to dueling golf tournaments within 60 miles of each other caused some initial concern and dismay.

But apparently the ACC was not impacted at the gate by the PGA Tour event.

“We didn’t expect that by any means. It kind of surprised us when the numbers started coming in,” said Jon Miller, executive vice president of NBC Sports.

Miller believes that RTO officials didn’t really want to go head-to-head with the ACC.

“Unfortunately the people of Reno got forced into these dates, and I’m sure if they had their druthers there are more attractive dates that they’d like to have for their event to take place,” Miller said.

Besides the ACC, the RTO was affected by holding its tournament while the British Open was being conducted on the Old Course at St. Andrews. With Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and other PGA stars competing at St. Andrews, the RTO was left with players who didn’t qualify for the major tournament.

Miller said that NBC Sports didn’t do anything differently promoting its 21-year-old championship with nearby competition vying for fans and their money. And NBC Sports doesn’t plan to switch the ACC’s tournament dates in the future.

“It’s always going to be British Open weekend. It’s a strategy that’s worked for us for many years, and I think it’s going to continue,” he said. “We intentionally hold it then for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s the last week before NFL quarterbacks and coaches go to training camps. We know the weather is good then, and No. 3, the British Open is in the morning so in the afternoon there is no competition on TV with any other golf tournament.”

Miller said he and NBC Sports associate Gary Quinn left the 2010 championship, believing they had just witnessed their best tournament to date.

“We are some of our harshest critics about every little thing that can go wrong, and we walked away thinking that this might have been our best one ever,” Miller said. “I think my grandchildren will one day be talking about this event.”