Celebrity golf: These are the good old days
It was nice to see Mark Rypien on the leader board this weekend, contending for the American Century Championship.
The former Super Bowl MVP is one of the genuine good guys on the celebrity golf circuit. Rypien’s performance stirs memories of the first Celebrity Golf Championship in 1990 won by the Washington Redskins quarterback.
To Lake Tahoe’s benefit, things have dramatically changed since those early years.
Back in the day it was a casual event. There was no admission fee for the practice rounds during the week, fans and press could mingle with the players in Edgewood’s bar and the Tribune’s sports desk fielded complaints about too much coverage about out-of-town celebrities and not enough about local Little Leaguers.
It used to be held on the Fourth of July weekend in hopes of drawing from visitors already at the lake. Now it is held later in the month because it’s a great event on its own.
Nowadays, there are bleachers set up around the greens, including a huge structure with skyboxes around the ninth green that rivals any PGA event. It has the feel of a major league event. More thank 25,000 attended this week,
Things have changed across the street as well. Caesars Tahoe knocked out a wall in a gaming area to make room for Michael Jordan and his buddies.
Like everyone who has been here, the players love coming to Tahoe. They especially love coming to the golf tournament – after all, they are the lucky ones. For every player who gets invited, there are dozens who are turned away.
“This is their summer camp,” said NBC’s Billy Rapaport, who has worked all 15 celebrity tournaments. The coordinating producer serves as the liaison between the players and the network.
“When you see a skate around before a hockey game you might wonder what the players are talking about with the guys on the other team. Well, if it’s Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick they are talking about coming to Tahoe in the summer.
“This event could go no other place and have the same success or feeling. Everything comes together here. It’s not a big media center. It’s not L.A., it’s in the mountains. Yeah, there’s media, but it’s not stupid. It’s not out of control. It’s small enough that the players feel protected.”
A few years ago when Isuzu dropped its title sponsorship, there was a concern that celebrity golf’s biggest event might have to move to a new location. But American Century came in and the Tahoe event has become a tradition.
A notable newcomer this week was Donald Trump, who was interviewed by the network after finishing his round Sunday.
With Tahoe’s famed blue lake and surrounding sky in the background, the star of “The Apprentice” told the world, “The whole Lake Tahoe experience has been great.”
All the advertising in the world couldn’t pay for that kind of plug for a tourist town.
Don Miner of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and one of the original organizers 15 years ago said the television coverage had the potential to reach 400 million people.
In addition to beautiful surroundings, the competition is getting more exciting. The modified Stableford scoring system is conducive to the event. The players are nowhere near as good at those on the PGA Tour, but Stableford makes it more fun to watch. Shot makers like Jordan can go for broke and the worst they can do is a double bogey. This system allowed Jordan, the most popular player, to enter the final round in the top 10.
Nevertheless, the best players still win. Six-time champion Rick Rhoden lost by a stroke to four-time winner Dan Quinn.
Everybody, no doubt, is already looking forward to next year.