Where can you see Michael Jordan going one-on-one against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, or New Jersey Devils all-star goalie Martin Brodeur trying to fend off the Boston Celtics great Ray Allen? Where can you find New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan giving pointers to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? And where does one of the greatest baseball rotations reunite off-court? Nowhere other than at the annual American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, teeing up this year July 12 to 17.
This unique golf tournament began 22 years ago with the idea of bringing together professional athletes and actors to compete in a serious stroke play tournament. Rather than facing off in another “pro-am” style format, these players would have a chance to put their game to the test for a $600,000 cash purse in a three-day event where all of their shots counted. Since that first event in 1989, won by former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, the American Century has become celebrity golf’s major championship. Players bring their families and enjoy not only the competition but also the camaraderie.
The tournament has become a fan favorite as well. Spectator galleries are afforded an “up close and personal” experience with some of the biggest names in pro sports and entertainment; celebrities like Ray Romano, Jack Wagner and former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle return yearly. While the 78 competitors get serious during the tournament, practice rounds allow onlookers to collect autographs and photographs with the stars.
Spectators soon discover that some of these athletes and celebs—such as Mario Lemieux, John Elway, three-time American Century winner Billy Joe Tolliver and six-time champion Rick Rhodes—can really play golf. At the same time, Charles Barkley, Kevin Nealon and ESPN commentator Lou Holtz can make even the average golfer suddenly feel better about his or her own game. The three-day outing is scored using a Stableford system, which awards points for each par, birdie and eagle scored, while penalizing for bogies and others.
The American Century is about more than just golf, however. The event has raised more than $3 million for many South Shore charities over the last two decades. And the athletes take away something from their time in Tahoe as well. This may be best evidenced by the generosity shown by NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley. After the tragic Angora Fire destroyed more than 200 homes just weeks before the 2007 championship, Barkley hosted a dinner for the firefighters and fire victims. The next year, he gave $100,000 to the Tahoe Emergency Fire Fund. Barkley returns to the Angora area annually to check up on reconstruction and continues to donate generously to local causes.
For one week of the year, tournament participants make Tahoe their home, which is why so many individuals covet an invitation, then return year after year. For spectators, it’s a fun way to see a more human side of their favorite sports pros and celebrities. From the rollicking scene on the beach next to the 18th green to the casual atmosphere along the fairways to the perfect summer weather, the American Century Championship is a showcase that truly allows Tahoe—and its fleeting stars—to shine. By Doug Saunders. TQ
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