Celebrities are trickling in, fans are stockpiling autograph pens and the golf course is undergoing the manicure of a lifetime.
The South Shore is ready for the 24th Annual American Century Championship.
A total of 85 sports and entertainment stars will tee off at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course this week in the much-anticipated celebrity golf tournament, which runs through Sunday. The celebrities will be vying for the $125,000 winner’s share of the $600,000 purse. More importantly, they will all be competing for bragging rights, and except for a few perennial bottom-dwellers, anyone’s got a shot.
Perhaps no one more so than defending champion Dan Quinn.
The former NHL star is more than ready to defend his 2012 title. He spent a week caddying for Ernie Els at the U.S. Open last month, and since then, Quinn has been doing his homework.
“Yeah, I have played a lot, and after the US Open, I will do nothing but (play golf),” Quinn said during a June conference call. “I have a month of golf, which is more than enough time. I live in Florida, I pretty much play year round other than the weeks I’m with Ernie. We played a bunch last week in preparation to come up here, and I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to defending and getting out there.”
But winning back-to-back tournaments is seldom done. Quinn defended his title just once and that was in 2002. MLB pitcher Rick Rhoden defended his title in 2008-09.
Odds makers, however, seem to like Quinn’s chances of going back-to-back. Early odds have him ranked No. 1, Rhoden ranked No. 2, and former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver sitting in the three spot. But these three have been shuffling around in the top three all summer, which is no huge surprise since Quinn is a five-time champion, Rhoden a tournament-leading eight-time champion and Tolliver a three-time champion, most recently in 2010.
But more than odds and more than championships, this tournament is about the celebrities, and like usual, all the big names will be there.
Notable returning players will be Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, 11-time surfing World Champion Kelly Slater, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, NHL All-Star goalie Martin Brodeur, NBA champion Shane Battier of the Miami Heat, former New York Knicks point guard and Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd, and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
The list goes on, and this year a few notable rookies were added to the lineup.
Michael Phelps, an 18-time gold medal Olympic swimmer, will make his ACC debut. Technically, Phelps is a beginner golfer, but after recent instruction from Hank Haney, Tiger Woods’ swing coach, it’s hard to guess what he’ll be bringing to the links.
“Michael is incredibly competitive. He’s the greatest Olympian ever,” Haney said during a June press conference. “I’ve seen him in competition, even just having a friendly bet with some friends, and he can really turn it up.”
Turning it up on the golf course is exactly what Phelps has been doing for the past year. About a year ago, he was shooting between 98 and 117. He’s chopped more than 30 strokes off his game since.
“Believe it or not, the golf swing comes along pretty fast,” Haney said. “When Michael started, he felt like putting was the best part of his games, and then the last round we played, he shot 85 with three three-putts.
Joining Phelps in the ACC rookie ranks will be former MLB All-Stars Chipper Jones, Éric Gagné, Troy Glaus, Jermaine Dye, Derek Lowe, Trevor Hoffman and Tim Wakefield, along with former NBA All-Star Detlef Schrempf, Denver Bronco’s head coach John Fox and comedians Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall.
Of course the usual suspects and crowd favorites will be there, like Charles Barkley, Ray Romano and 2011 champion Jack Wagner.
Wagner, along with John Elway, Mike Eruzione and Jim McMahon, hasn’t missed an ACC tournament since its inception in 1990. He has two coveted championships and a handful of top five finishes to show for his 23 years.
So where’s the best place to watch all these celebrities take a swing?
“Spectators probably want to be out at 17 green on the weekend because that’s when the celebrities will autograph footballs and throw them into the crowd,” said Mike Milthorpe, ACC tournament director for more than 20 years.
Hole 17 is where all the action goes down. It’s the site for the Korbel Spray Off on Thursday; a competition to see which celebrity can shoot a cork farthest. It’s also the site for the Korbel Hole-in-One/Closest to the Pin Challenge on Friday, followed by a Big Break Golf Show exhibition on Saturday when 75 panes of glass will be brought out to see which celebrity can break the glass best.
Daily tickets are $15 for the practice round today and the American Century Celebrity-Amateur on Thursday. Tickets are $25 for each tournament round on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A Patron Badge Season Pass, good for admission all six days, will be on sale for $60. Children ages 10 and younger are free when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult.
Advance tickets are available online at www.TahoeSouth.com, at specific retail locations or at the entrance gate during the tournament. Discounted tickets are also being sold at Raley’s, Nob Hill and Bel Air locations throughout Northern California and Nevada.
NOTES: There have been nine different winners in the event. Besides Rhoden, Quinn, Tolliver and Wagner, Mark Rypien (1990), Dick Anderson (1994), Mario Lemieux (1998), Al Del Greco (2000) and Chris Chandler (2007) have each won once. Wagner is the only non-athlete to win the event...
Gates open for ticket sales at 7 a.m. every day. No photos or asking for autographs are allowed today through Thursday. Spectators may use point and shoot digital cameras Friday through Sunday. No sports memorabilia is permitted on property.
Nevada Appeal sports editor Darrell Moody contributed to this report.