57,097 tickets means big business for Tahoe celebrity golf event
STATELINE, Nev. — Tony Romo hoisted the trophy. Steph Curry jumped into Lake Tahoe fully clothed. Joe Pavelski and Mark Mulder vied for the title with their last shots on the dramatic final hole. The fans mixing margaritas with a power drill while partying wildly to music on hole No. 17.
Many memories were made at the 29th annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament and more fans than ever watched from behind the ropes at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nev., on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore.
The fan attendance record was broken for the fourth consecutive year with 57,097 tickets sold for the six-day event, July 10-15. They came to get a glimpse of the 92 playing celebrities. Last year 55,801 tickets were sold for the tournament, which saw from former MLB pitcher Mulder win a third consecutive championship.
This year featured former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, turned TV analyst, Romo taking the title from Mulder and outlasting San Jose Sharks captain Paveski, who held the tournament lead after the first two days.
The trio was in the final group and went back and forth sharing the lead throughout the final round. The tournament was undecided until the very last shot, which likely helped push up NBC TV viewership.
Sunday’s TV audience was up over 20 percent from the year before and Saturday’s was up almost 10 percent with a total of 1.4 million viewers tuning in during the two TV hours on the weekend.
“The tournament being close and having guys at the top of the leaderboard like Romo, the Sharks captain Pavelski from northern California — star power was on display and people wanted to tune in to see what happened,” said Phil Weidinger, the tournament’s media director.
With 27 years of working behind the scenes at the tournament, Weidinger has seen the tournament grow, which he attributes to the big-name stars who drive ticket sales and TV viewership.
“It’s grown big time in the last 25 years and it’s still jumping big time,” Weidinger said. “NBC is keeping the level of celebrity up there, Curry, Barkley, Romo, that’s what drives the tournament. People want to see the stars and they come out to see them.”
Overall, the top four players entering Sunday were within five points of each other and the top 10 were separated by just 13 points. Four different players held the lead at some point during the final round.
And that’s all without the tournament’s top draw — Steph Curry. The Golden State Warrior three-time word champion and two-time league MVP and his father, Dell, an NBA veteran, started a tradition last year by betting that the loser between them would have to jump in chilly Lake Tahoe.
Steph won last year, but not this year. Still, it was as close as it could get. Curry needing a miracle, almost got it. He hit the pin from about 150 yards out on hole No. 18 and his ball came to a rest about 2 feet away from the cup. Had it went in, his father would have gotten wet.
While Romo, Mulder and Pavelski were playing the final hole for all the marbles, the younger Curry took the plunge, and said he never wants to do that again, adding it was cold but refreshing.
Videos of Curry jumping into the lake went viral and were seen by millions.
And hole No. 17, there’s nothing like it in golf. Fans interact with celebrities. They are lined up in boats along the entire par 3.
Aaron Rodgers threw footballs to people on boats. Curry and Ray Allen, two of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history, took turns taking long-range shots at a temporary basket. Music blasts in the background and is easily heard on the neighboring holes.
NBC broadcasted nationally from the 17th hole and the whole event showcased everything spectacular about Lake Tahoe — the water, the weather and the surroundings.
“No. 17 is the spot,” Weidinger said. “It shows all those celebrities having fun and that’s also showcasing Lake Tahoe. This event has become an annual Tahoe deal, it reflects everything the Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority wants to show, all the beauty.”
Planning for the 30th annual event next year is not quite in the works just yet, though the dates have been set, July 9-14. NBC changes things up every year by adding a different mix of celebrities. This year 13 first time celebrities played and NBC usually likes to have 10 to 20 percent of the field to be fresh faces.
“The event is such a blast,” Weidinger said. “It’s so much fun watching the players sign autographs for the kids. They’re making memories for the kids.”
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