Lake Tahoe celebrity golf is on — with no fans

Steph Curry is surprised after a fan in 2019 went underneath the ropes and outran security personnel on the 17th Tee. There won’t be fans at this summer’s American Century Championship, but Curry will return.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

There will be celebrity golf at Lake Tahoe this summer. But without the autographs.

The 31st American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course will be played July 10-12 without spectators. All prize money will be donated to Covid-19 relief and Lake Tahoe-area nonprofits.

The tournament will be played “in accordance with governmental and health guidelines — and similar to major sporting events throughout the country,” according to press statement from Weidinger Public Relations. It will be broadcast on NBC.

The tournament began as a made-for-television event in 1990 to fill a void for sports fans during a Major League Baseball strike. Casino Corridor and tourism promotions groups such as the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority were thrilled to have scenic footage of Tahoe featured on national television. While there were not many spectators in the early years, the celebrity golf tourney has grown to have more than 50,000 fans annually attend and in the last decade the course has been filled with large tents for vendors and corporate guests. More than 400 volunteers and 150 press members have worked the event each year.

As a youth, Clive, Iowa, resident Eron McDonough became enamored with Lake Tahoe as he watched the tournament each year on television. As an adult, he regularly attends the ACC.

“I will miss going to Lake Tahoe this year,” McDonough said. “Heaven on Earth is not cliche when it comes to Lake Tahoe. For the first time in many years, I will watch the tournament on television instead of being there in person.”

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Spectators, such as South Lake Tahoe’s Tom Burkard, will be required to stay in their boats during the 2020 American Century Championship. Boaters also will be asked to remain social distanced.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

American Century, an investment management firm, became the title sponsor in the late 1990s. For the first time, the company will not have clients attend the tournament.

“That (sponsorship) shows the loyalty of American Century and the long-running relationship and we’ve had with them and with NBC Sports and the LTVA,” Phil Weidinger told Tahoe Onstage on Thursday. “American Century has stepped up huge.”

Tahoe Onstage
Jim McMahon

With no fans, this year’s tournament might partially resemble an early version of the tournament that began in 1990 and featured Michael Jordan and Mark Rypien, the first champion. Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and actor Jack Wagner have played in every celebrity golf tournament.

The golfers are not expected to wear protective masks as they play but they will “follow strict protocol from time they land until the time they depart,” Weidinger said. “They will be followed everywhere they go from the hotel to airport.”

“While this 31st edition will be different than any previous tournament, this demonstrates a unique example of prominent stakeholders supporting each other and in turn, the destination and the community that absolutely loves this event,” offered Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the LTVA. “It signals an important message of renewal for Lake Tahoe.”

Two-time defending champion Tony Romo, Stephen Curry, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Barkley will participate in the usual full field of 80 golfers.

The NBA season is expected to resume – also without spectators – on July 31, but with only the top 22 teams. The Golden State Warriors dismal season means Curry will be back on the Lake Tahoe links. However, the wild scene at Hole 17, which has included a portable basketball hoop for players to shoot and dunk, will be far different. Boaters will be instructed to remain in their vessels and not approach the shoreline.

“There’s a tremendous amount of challenging work to be done,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports, which owns and operates the tournament. “We have our arms around the precautionary aspects because health and safety are the priorities.  As we’ve all seen, golf can be played in a responsible, socially distanced way.”

The press statement continued, “NBC and tournament partners at Edgewood Tahoe and host hotels developed a comprehensive safety plan that includes enhanced cleaning protocols at both the course and hotels, on-course sanitation stations and restrictions on large organized dinners and evening events. Only the celebrities and essential tournament staff will be allowed on the course and all will be required to follow social distancing guidelines.”

-Tim Parsons

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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