Since the first American Century Championship in 1990, the five-day golf event at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course has become a destination for athletes past and present across all sports. The competition gets stronger each year. In 2021, the field grew to 87. Hoopster Vinny Del Negro narrowly beat pitcher John Smoltz and quarterback Tony Romo. We can’t think of another event where athletes from eight sports and a variety of celebrities are competing for a coveted prize.
NBC created the tournament back in 1989 to fill the empty air time after the network lost the rights to Major League Baseball. NFL quarterback Mark Rypien took home $75,000 by winning the first event in 1990. The winning prize has risen to $125,000 since. Despite what is not a large purse, the American Century Championship is one of the most underrated sports events.
The appeal begins with the environment, as best described by Eddie Matz, who wrote a feature story on this event for ESPN The Magazine back in 2010.
“If you go during the summer, you won’t see a single cloud,” Matz wrote. “Doesn’t matter how long you stay. And while it’s an unbearable 106 degrees just 45 minutes north in Reno, the elevation of Tahoe (6,000-plus feet) keeps temps in the low 80s. Then there’s the scenery. Snow-capped mountains descend into water so crystal clear you want to open your mouth and drink it.”
The golf tournament might be what brings everyone to Tahoe, but the fun that happens everywhere else is the true draw. There’s lots of gambling, lots of drinking, and plenty of antics that typically arise when you combine the two. Ray Allen deejaying. Marcus Allen dueting with Alfonso Ribeiro. Charles Barkley pouring shots for anyone in the vicinity. Anyone lucky enough to be around Harrah’s Lake Tahoe hotel and casino — the host site for the event — is sure to bring back plenty of similar stories.
With stars ranging across different sports from different eras, the event is a meeting ground unlike any other.
“Sure, you could attend a Hall of Fame induction ceremony and see plenty of legends, but they’d all be from the same sport,” Matz wrote. “You could sneak into the ESPYs and find all manner of jocks, but aside from the ceremony itself and maybe a pre- or post-party, that’s it. They’re in, they’re out. People swear by the NBA All-Star weekend and Super Bowl week, but the host towns are so big and the party schedule so jam-packed that you never come close to getting all the big dogs in the same place at the same time. In Tahoe, you do. For five days straight.”
Of the 18 holes that comprise the golf course, No. 17 has garnered a reputation as the party hole. Located right along Lake Tahoe, it’s where fans can locate for free if they arrive early enough via boat and offers them the best chance at a celebrity interaction and entice them into some antics.
Several pros have taken turns launching golf balls towards nearby party boats. After losing a bet with his dad at the 2018 tournament, Stephen Curry took a dive into the lake.
The tournament winnings are now up to $600,000, most of which goes to charity. But no matter where a celebrity finishes in the tournament, everyone who partakes in the event ultimately walks away a winner and fans walk away with an experience unlike any other.
Photo Credit: Ken Lund