Tee times near for celebrities: New players coming to golf tournament
Celebrity skiing events have come and gone, but the American Century Golf Championship, sixteen years old and showing no signs of leaving town, has become deeply rooted in this mountain community.
While the event initially struggled to attract a title sponsor and again when Isuzu dropped its financial support in 1998, the tournament from July 15-17 still boasts a location other venues can’t match: the beauty of Lake Tahoe on one side of the event and legalized gambling on the other.
“My No. 1 goal is win money in the casino and my second goal is to not hit anybody,” said basketball star Charles Barkley, one of the top attractions for the 54-hole tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
The first championship in 1990 spawned a celebrity tour, but none of the events has ever matched the star power that convenes on the South Shore in the middle of July.
Besides Barkley, the 78-player field includes Michael Jordan, John Elway, Dan Marino, Mario Lemieux, Johnny Bench, Pete Sampras, Donald Trump and Emmitt Smith.
“You can’t really match the celebrities and entertainers that you will see next week in Lake Tahoe,” Marino said. “From that standpoint, it makes coming to Lake Tahoe really enjoyable.”
NBC Sports, which televises the final two rounds, decides who plays and annually freshens the field.
“NBC tries to get different people in there every year and they keep it vibrant,” said Phil Weidinger, whose business, Weidinger Public Relations, has promoted the event since 1992. “They’ve taken advantage of inviting the hot names out there and really try to include a lot more entertainment celebrities. That’s what draws spectators.”
Actors Don “Hotel Rwanda” Cheadle and Mark “Italian Job” Wahlberg and actress Cheryl Ladd are part of this year’s infusion of star power. They join first-time participants Oakland Raiders’ quarterback Rich Gannon, San Diego Chargers’ quarterback Drew Brees and all-time quarterback sack leader Bruce Smith.
Marino’s summer calendar is packed with excitement. The former Miami Dolphins quarterback will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame next month, but not before making his eighth appearance in the championship.
“I love the competition and being able to compare yourself against the other guys,” he said. “You are out there trying to have a good time with good people and people you respect. You want to put on a show for the fans and you don’t want to embarrass yourself.”
For the first time in tournament history Caesars Tahoe won’t serve as host to the celebrities. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe has taken over that responsibility after Colombia Sussex purchased Caesars Tahoe in June.
“We’re really excited to show off a little bit,” said Don Marrandino, president of Harrah’s Northern Nevada operations. “The town really rallies behind this event, our staff is really excited and we’re looking forward to a great week.”
Tournament odds, however, are only tendered across the street at Harveys Resort Casino, which was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. in 2001.
When Barkley learned on Thursday that the casino listed former Kings forward Chris Webber as having a better chance of winning the tournament than him, he became irritated. The odds on Barkley winning the title is 500-1, while Webber, who owns the dubious records of high single-round and three-round scores, is listed at 100-1.
“That’s embarrassing. That man shot 130,” Barkley said.
“I thank god Chris Webber is going to be here this year. If I get beat by C. Webb, I really have to give this game up.
“I’m not going to worry about the girl (Ladd). If I can beat C. Webb and Kevin (Nealon), that’s my goal for this trip.”
During a teleconference with Barkley and Marino on Thursday, it was announced that Autism Speaks will be the beneficiary charity for this year’s tournament. That decision was especially touching to Marino, who has a 17-year-old autistic child.
“We have a center where we see 6,000 children a month and when I have a parent tell me, ‘Dan, this facility really helped,’ that’s everything you dream of, to raise funds and make a difference,” Marino said.
In past years the tournament has raised $2 million for charities, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association Scholarship Fund and Mark Cuban’s Fallen Patriot Fund.
Official practice rounds begin on Tuesday. Ticket prices are $10 for Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice rounds, $10 for the American Century Celeb-Am on Thursday and $20 for each day of the 54-hole tournament. Tournament passes are also available for $50.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at Raley’s stores at the “Y” and Stateline.
ACC Tournament Schedule
(Gates open at 7 a.m. each day)
7 a.m.-3 p.m. – Practice rounds
9 a.m. – Lake Tahoe Celeb-Am Tournament
7-9:10 a.m. (first tee) – Harrah’s Celebrity-Am Tournament
7:05-9:15 a.m. (10th tee) – Practice rounds
Noon-2:10 p.m. (first and 10th tees) – Practice rounds
7-9:10 a.m. and 12:05-2:15 p.m. (first tee) – American Century Celebrity-Am Tournament
7:05-9:15 a.m. and noon-2:10 p.m. (10th tee) – American Century Celebrity-Am Tournament
8:30-10:30 a.m. (10th tee) – American Century Championship first round
8:35-10:35 a.m. (first tee) – American Century Championship first round
8:25-10:25 a.m. (first tee) – American Century Championship second round
8:30-10:30 a.m. (10th tee) – American Century Championship second round
8:25-10:25 a.m. (first tee) – American Century Championship final round
8:30-10:30 a.m. (10th tee) – American Century Championship final round
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