STATELINE, Nev. – The celebrity golf championship celebrating its 20th anniversary at Lake Tahoe next weekend owes a lot of its success to baseball, and not just because ex-pitcher Rick Rhoden has won the event a record seven times.
It was NBC Sports’ decision in 1989 to end its contract with Major League Baseball to televise Saturday’s game of the week that led to the creation of the popular made-for-TV event that pairs sports stars with actors, entertainers and other celebrities.
“Dick Ebersol was the new CEO of NBC Sports and basically came and said, ‘We’ve got to find some programming to fill the void,’ ” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports executive vice president.
“We put together the first Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1990 with 46 players and $400,000. Twenty years later, you can see where we are. It’s been a tremendous success. It continues to get bigger every year,” he said.
More than 70 golfers will be competing this year for the $600,000 purse and $100,000 winner’s check at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Friday through Sunday.
Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, John Elway, Jerry Rice, Charles Barkley, Dale Jarrett, Jason Kidd, Mario Lemieux, Marcus Allen, Ray Allen, Dan Marino, Lawrence Taylor and Emmitt Smith are among the annual fan favorites who will smack and hack their way around the 7,555-yard Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course on the shores of the azure lake in the Sierra Nevada.
Harrah’s Sports Book has made Rhoden a 9-5 favorite to win again this year, but Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is close behind at 3-1.