Golf tournament sets attendance record |

Golf tournament sets attendance record

Sara Thompson / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tahoe Daily Tribune/Mike Thompson

The 2009 American Century Championship set an attendance record, bringing in 37,205 spectators for the six-day event as well as a welcome boost to business and benefit to the community.

The previous record was set last year with 31,220 attendees.

Carol Chaplin, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority executive director, said it was a great surprise to see the attendance record broken in these tough economic times.

“The event has a lot of traction, and it’s a great way for folks to come and spend a day or more,” Chaplin said.

Chaplin said she’s spoken with several restaurants that did a lot of business over the weekend, but hadn’t had a chance to talk to retail owners.

The Lake Tahoe Airport was also busy, she added.

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“We all get a lot of business indirectly and directly from the event,” said Jerry Bindel, South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association president.

The event is also affordable to attend, which helps with attendance, Bindel said.

Tickets were $15 per day Tuesday through Thursday, and $25 per day Friday through Sunday. An event pass good for all six days sold for $60.

As for the benefit to the community, Tahoe Youth and Family Services, Bread and Broth and the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe will split $160,463 in donations received from the tournament.

The amount was $60,000 more than originally anticipated. On Sunday, Tony Romo moved ahead of Dan Quinn into second place on the 18th hole. This resulted in the Dallas Cowboys quarterback winning $60,000.

But because Romo wants to maintain his amateur status, he can’t accept the winnings and will donate it to the local charities.

Romo’s donation is in addition to $190,000 that NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley has contributed over the past two years to a fund for victims of the Angora fire that burned more than 250 homes at Lake Tahoe in 2007.

The event also turned a national spotlight on Tahoe. Bindel said his lodging colleagues around the country watched the event on television and commented on how great Lake Tahoe looked.

“We all get the buzz and national attention for this,” Bindel said.

Most lodging properties were full or mostly booked because of the event, Bindel said. The golf tournament is one of the top four events that bring overnight stays to the South Shore.

The other major events are the Lake Tahoe Summer Concert Series, the Labor Day and July 4 firework shows. Other events, such as the Lake Tahoe Marathon and America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, also help the lodging industry, Bindel added.

“All of those are great events, and we need more of them,” Bindel said.

Other events are still coming up this summer, including the Lake in the Sky Air Show, The Great Gatsby Festival and more events at Valhalla, Chaplin noted.

Before July, Chaplin said a lot of properties had advanced bookings for the summer, which is encouraging for businesses. Weekend bookings have also been strong this summer, she added.

“I think the drive-up market will carry the summer for us, and we should end up in good shape,” Chaplin said.

The hot weather in the surrounding areas will give potential visitors the incentive to drive up to the lake and cool off, Chaplin said.

The South Shore can anticipate celebrity golf to continue for many years. American Century Investments, NBC and Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course are under contract to collectively hold the 54-hole celebrity tournament until 2012.

Jon Miller, NBC’s executive vice president of programming, said that the two-decade-old championship should remain at the same venue well beyond the current contract.

“I think it’s going to last a long time,” Miller said. “I don’t think there is any other place in the country that is more perfect to hold this event. A lot of events don’t make it this long. It’s a real credit to this community.”

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling and The Associated Press contributed to this report.