Tahoe may lose Celebrity Golf Championship | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe may lose Celebrity Golf Championship

Michael Schneider and Tim Parsons

This summer might be the last time Lake Tahoe hosts the Celebrity Golf Championship.

The golf tournament, which for nine years has brought to Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Joe Namath and Mike Schmidt, will be played during the Fourth of July weekend this summer. But if a major sponsor doesn’t step up before then, local officials warn the tournament will head to different greens in 2000.

Isuzu, the sponsor for the last seven years, dropped out after the 1998 event.

Mel Thomas, general manager of Caesars Tahoe, the tournament’s host casino, told the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority on Wednesday that NBC and Sports Marketing Television International – the two companies that own the rights to the tournament – have committed to Tahoe this year.

Thomas said his discussions with possible sponsors have been unsuccessful, but he will continue to search for a sponsor to pick up the annual $2.5 million price tag.

It may be up to local businesses and governments to compensate for sponsorship shortfall in coming years, Thomas said.

“If Tahoe wants to keep the tournament in Tahoe, then we as a community need to do all we can to make up a $2.5 million shortfall in sponsorship,” Thomas said.

He suggested the TDVA consider contributing up to $1 million annually, in lieu of a major sponsor. He said the remaining funds could come from local governments, private companies and other funding agencies in the Tahoe Basin.

Board Chairman Kevin Servatius, who is Harveys Resort Hotel/Casino’s TDVA representative, agreed that the TDVA needs to do all it can to keep the Celebrity Golf Tournament at Lake Tahoe.

“The Fourth of July and Celebrity Golf are our only two home run events,” Servatius said. “We need to keep it here. It’s very important we don’t lose this.”

The players don’t want Tahoe to lose the event, either.

“We all would like to keep playing there,” said Rick Rhoden, a four-time winner of the championship. “I can’t picture a better place to play a tournament. It has the overall package. Tahoe has the great course, the beautiful setting, the gambling.”

Since Mark Rypien won the first championship in 1990, the tournament has grown into the Celebrity Golf Tour. There are a handful of events each year, with the championship always being held at Tahoe.

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s TDVA representative Skip Sayer said getting a major sponsor is critical. “As much as I love the event, we need to take a real hard look at it,” he said.

Sayer said he understood the importance of the tournament, but he said the board needed to first look at what else it could do with $1 million.

“I want to find a corporate sponsor,” Sayer said.

Thomas said the tournament falls on the Fourth of July weekend this year because of a break in NBC’s regular golf tournament schedule. It is not expected to be played over the holiday weekend for the next several years.

Sayer said the one thing that seems certain is if a corporate sponsor or a local proposal to sponsor the event is not procured before the conclusion of this year’s tournament, organizers will look elsewhere.

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