AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Rascal Flatts guitarist plays celebrity tournament by day, concerts at night |

AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Rascal Flatts guitarist plays celebrity tournament by day, concerts at night

Submitted to the TribuneRascal Flatts lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney plays at Edgewood Golf Course for the American Century Championship.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – The bleacher crowd of about 50 at the first tee applauded when Rascal Flatts lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney was announced at Thursday’s American Century Celeb-Am Tournament.

Dressed with gray slacks and matching beret, Rooney stood behind his ball, studied the 426-yard fairway and gripped his driver, making noticeable an eagle tattoo on his left forearm. The drive was a low liner, and for a moment it looked like it might hit a right-side bunker. But there was no splice in the shot. It went perfectly straight, landing safely almost in the middle of the fairway.

Friday and Saturday night after his rounds at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in the American Century Championship Rooney will perform before more than 7,000 country music fans at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.

It’s only the second time a musician has performed onstage and in the American Century Championship. The Gatlin Brothers – Steve, Larry and Rudy – played a show at Caesars Tahoe in the late 1990s and in the celebrity tournament, which is in its 21st year. Billy Rapaport, the ACC senior field director, has worked all 21.

“The Gatlin Brothers just played one show inside at Caesars,” Rapaport said. “This is two major outdoor concerts. That’s unprecedented. It’s a great thing for this event.”

How major are the concerts?

“We’re bringing 15 trucks,” said Trey Turner, manager of Rascal Flatts, a band with 10 No. 1 country hits and known for elaborate stage effects.

Rooney laughed when he was asked if he was worried about performing after playing golf all day.

“I’m not but the guys might be,” he said, a few minutes before teeing off. “I love to compete.”

Golfing the day of a concert is typical for the musical trio, which includes Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus.

“I try to play at least nine holes and get back to the sound check by 4 p.m.,” Rooney said. “When we toured with Darius Rucker we played every day.”

Rascal Flatt’s bus driver, who was Rooney’s caddy Thursday, confirmed the story and talked about his game.

“Before a show sometimes I’ll drive right to the golf course,” said Lee Pharris, who added the Golf Channel is usually tuned in on the bus. “He played in the BMW Pro-Am, made the cut and was in the top 12 Sunday. He’s a good little player. Like any golfer he has his ups and downs.”

Rooney acknowledged the ACC is a much bigger deal.

“This is different with the gallery and TV crews,” he said. “You’re definitely under the microscope.”

Rooney learned the game from his father, practicing with a pitching wedge in the backyard in Picher, Okla. When he got older, he played at a nine-hole course just across the border in Kansas. He said he played in some junior tournaments but his high school didn’t have a golf team. There were just 25 in his graduating class.

Rooney, who has an 8 handicap, listed his ACC goals.

“I’d love to make at least three birdies a day,” he said. “If I keep making pars, I’ll be fine. My goal is no double bogeys. I don’t want to try to do too much. That’s where us ams get in trouble.”

Rooney’s group Thursday included NFL Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen. Before the round began, Rooney was introduced to Allen’s girlfriend and model Laura Hunter, who said she likes Rascal Flatts.

“I grew up listening to country,” she said. “It reminds me of being with my friends riding around.”

The idea of having Rooney play in the tournament began backstage at Lake Tahoe five years ago, said Rapaport, who thought the timing was right in 2010.

“I was at the Olympics covering figure skating when I called (Turner),” he said.

The concert initially was scheduled for later this month, said Turner, who “rerouted” some West Coast shows.

The band members were thrilled when they learned they would be here the week of the ACC.

“They were like, ‘Hell yeah,’ ” Turner said. “Now were here hanging out in Lake Tahoe.”

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