Over the course of nearly three decades, the American Century Championship has become the premier celebrity golf tournament in the country. The ACC’s star-studded field of athletes and celebrities sets it apart from the rest — and makes it the signature summer event in Tahoe.
“It’s a blast,” entertainment superstar Justin Timberlake said after making his debut in 2015. “What an event.”
Timberlake again headlines the field for the 27th annual celebrity golf tournament that returns to the South Shore, which began Tuesday. The celebrity pro-am highlights events in the first three days at Edgewood Tahoe, with the three-round Modified Stableford tournament set for Friday through Sunday.
The recent announcement of two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry joining the tournament field added a late buzz to its latest edition. Making his fourth appearance, the Splash Brother will join his father Dell along with Golden State Warriors’ teammate Andre Iguodala on the links at Stateline.
The 2016 tournament will feature five female competitors, the most in its history. Along with Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell, the newcomers on the ladies’ side include U.S. women’s soccer icon Abby Wambach along with Heather LeMaster, Kathryn Tappen and Blair O’Neal.
Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Andrew Bachelder will also make his ACC debut, after winning the Warrior Open — a tournament that features military veterans severely wounded since Sept. 11, 2001. The Texan is listed at 15-1 odds, and is following in the path of past tournament participants Chad Pfeifer and Rodney Gorman.
With the ACC set to tee off next week, here are some of the fan favorites and mainstays who are beloved in Tahoe for more than driving, chipping and putting:
THE ORIGINAL THREE
Three players have brought their golf games to Lake Tahoe every year since the tournament’s inception in 1990. Mike Eruzione, Jim McMahon and Jack Wagner are the tournament’s founding players, and each make their 27th appearances at this year’s ACC.
Wagner is the best golfer of the bunch, winning the title in 2011 and 2006 and only finishing outside the top-15 three times — last year he took sixth. The actor best known for his role as Frisco Jones on “General Hospital” is always near the top of the leaderboard, and a pretty big hit with the ladies, too.
Eurizone, who captained the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team of “Miracle on Ice” lore, is an athlete whose celebrity status hasn’t faded since first appearing in the tournament. McMahon, the flamboyant quarterback best known for helping shuffle the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl XX win, is best known for his on-course outfits which always lack one element — shoes.
For Charles Barkley, playing in the tournament is definitely not about the golf. In his 21st appearance, Barkley enters the ACC as a 6,000-1 underdog — the worst odds to win the tournament.
Last year, Barkley hacked his way to a second-to-last place finish with a Modified Stableford score of minus-96. That put the NBA Hall of Famer 178 points behind champion Mark Mulder, who aims to defend his title next week.
“This is my favorite week of the year,” Barkley said in June. “I circle this week on the calendar (before anything else). I barely made it through last year. I could barely walk.”
Barkley loves the tournament so much he postponed hip surgery to play at Edgewood Tahoe in 2015, and was noticeably hobbled on the course. But he toughed it out, giving the galleries a laugh with his wit and trademark swing that features a large hitch on the way back down — and sometimes only requires one hand.
The greatest receiver in NFL history is always a celebrity golf hit, a Northern California fan favorite from his legendary playing days with the San Francisco 49ers. Rice has appeared at the tournament every year since 1996, and plays to the crowd at every opportunity.
At last year’s tournament, Rice more than held his own during the last two rounds while paired with Timberlake and fellow entertainer Alfonso Ribeiro. Whatever Rice does at Edgewood Tahoe, he will likely have a cigar parked in his mouth. And along with it, a constant display of swagger.
The actor and comedian best known as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” has been a tournament mainstay since 2000, and is always ready to have a good time. Nealon called himself the ACC’s “social media ambassador” at last year’s tournament, and made his fellow golfers sweat by putting them up to a lie detector test.
Ever since his rookie year in the NFL, the Northern California native and former Cal Bear has teed it up at Edgewood. The now two-time MVP always attracts a big following from hometown fans and Green Bay Packer faithful alike, and has cracked the top 30 each of the past two years.
The 10-year NFL veteran most recently with the Cincinnati Bengals has participated in the ACC every year since 2009, but has really left his mark on the past two tournaments. A pair of shots on the seventh hole in consecutive years has provided indelible moments on the eve of the tournament — and they didn’t involve a club, ball or tee.
Hawk has tackled a fan at the seventh hole each of the past two years, hits similar to those he dishes out on the gridiron. After honoring the fan’s request for a tackle during the 2014 tournament, Hawk stepped up his game last year by laying out the same fan in the middle of a pass pattern.
Hawk, a 300-1 favorite to win the tournament, insisted he has something new in store for fans on Thursday of tournament week. But that’s the only information he would offer.
“I think we’re going to have a little surprise for everybody this year,” Hawk said in early July. “I’m looking forward to it.”