Attracting a broader audience: ACC puts its hopes on the ‘entertainment factor’ |

Attracting a broader audience: ACC puts its hopes on the ‘entertainment factor’

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Actor Kevin Costner waits his turn to putt on 17 Tuesday afternoon at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

From a distance, a large female contingent looked like bees hovering over honey on the 18th hole of Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course at the American Century Championship Tuesday.

Actor Kevin Costner was playing golf for the first time in the tournament, attracting a crowd outside the mainstay sports demographic of 25- to 54-year-old men that golf tournaments like the U.S. Open and the Masters draw.

It’s a new day and age for the world of golf — at the courses and the television sets. More than 6 million viewers will tune into the tournament this weekend, and many are seeking sports stars and celebrities as much as good swings.

“This event is more appealing to women than the typical golf tournament in field, fashion, locale and format,” said Kevin Monaghan, NBC vice president of business development. With advertisers like American Airlines and Korbel, the target audience of the event extends beyond the masses. The advertisers buy into an undisclosed package of television spots, signs, booths and auxiliary graphics.

“For us, it’s name recognition. This isn’t the Tiger Woods golfer (follower). There’s more of the entertainment factor here,” said marketing manager Brian Spano of American Century, the title sponsor.

At the golf course, the iconic U.S. women’s soccer star Brandi Chastain — who stripped down to her sports bra to display her exuberance at winning the 1999 World Cup — took to the course another year for the LTVA Celeb/Am the first day of the tournament. Now a year into motherhood, Chastain was joined by an 11-year-old San Diego boy — who played golf with former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps.

But it was Costner who drew the female crowd. One man nudged his female companion donning a New York Yankees cap to the ropes. Costner is a big baseball fan, starring in three blockbuster hits on the sport.

Merilou Saunders was on a mission to see Costner, best known for a string of films ranging from “Dancing With Wolves” to the most recent “Mr. Brooks.”

“He’s the only actor I’ve ever dreamed about,” the Phoenix woman said.

It didn’t seem to matter that Mr. Dreamboat didn’t get his game. His ball rolled under the rope on the edge of the 18th hole and was given away by a fellow caddie, keeping him from completing the hole.

When asked by the Tahoe Daily Tribune if he “removed the mechanism” during his golf game like he did playing the baseball pitcher in “For Love of the Game,” he muttered: “My mechanism was thrashed today.”

Young Jonah Texeira appeared to have better luck. Phelps, now an ESPN analyst, threw the youngest tournament player his glove marked “Digger.”

“He played a legitimate birder. It was good to see him play with such confidence,” Phelps said.

The American Century Championship has turned into more of a family event, with the golf tournament in its 18th year. Some spectators attribute the trend to more women interested and participating in sports.

Even Wendy Oceguede of Chico insists she’s just as much a Pittsburgh Steeler fan as her husband Jesse. Married 23 years, the couple with their two sons turned out the first day of the tournament with one objective: To get Jerome Bettis’ autograph. The former Steeler running back showed up this year to play for the first time, and the family wasn’t going to miss it in their 11th year of attending.

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