ACC golf tourney: Why do celebs and sports stars keep coming back to Tahoe’s signature summer event?

Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors watches his tee shot during the final round of the American Century Championship last year. Photo: Adam Trumble

There’s one thing that keeps bringing comedian and actor Kevin Nealon back to the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament every summer at Lake Tahoe.

“Hope,” Nealon said with a wry smile following the second round of the 2018 ACC at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline.

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The Saturday Night Live alum went on to finish in 87th place out of 92 participants at the 29th annual event last summer.

WATCH: Check it out! Comedian Kevin Nealon, a longtime American Century Championship participant, talks about what keeps bringing him back to Edgewood Tahoe.

Posted by Tahoe Daily Tribune on Saturday, July 14, 2018

“Hope keeps bringing me back,” he continued. “The great thing about golf is you think you can always get better. For some people that’s true … for me, I just like coming back and enjoying it up here.”

Jokes aside, Nealon has wielded his driver, wedge and putter in the ACC tournament for more than a dozen years — even attending one year that he was sidelined with a shoulder injury — and has no intention of stopping his Tahoe tradition.

“It’s such a special event because it’s a great fundraiser for charities, and there are a lot of great athletes and celebrities and everybody has a good time,” Nealon told Tahoe Magazine. “It’s kind of like family to me, I’ve been coming up here for so long, and I know these people so well.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches his shot from the fairway on hole No. 10 during the second round of last year’s American Century Championship on July 14, 2018. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel

In fact, members of Nealon’s immediate family often make the trek to Tahoe to support his hopeful outing, and soak in the breathtaking scenery — the diamond-flecked blue waters, the sprawl of green pines, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains encompassing it all.

Nealon’s brother, Mike, even serves as his caddie. In Kevin Nealon’s Instagram post on July 11, 2018, he wrote that his brother “does all the hard work” while “I swing the clubs and gaze at the beauty of Lake Tahoe.”

On the links, Nealon told Tahoe Magazine that, no matter the amount of strokes on his scorecard, the 18-hole course along the South Shore is a fun challenge to take on every year.

“Every hole is so unique, every hole has its own personality,” he said. “And like any personality, you like some better than others …”

Everybody loves him: Comedian Ray Romano poses with a mother and her child on July 14, 2018, at Edgewood Golf Course. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel

No hole at the ACC has a bigger personality than No. 17 — where the tournament turns into a beach party. Hugging the shores of Lake Tahoe, No. 17 draws a large and rowdy crowd of people drinking in the ACC (in more ways than one) on the sand and in nearby boats.

Each year, margarita-gripped spectators get the opportunity to do much more than watch celebrities strike golf balls up close. Feeding off the animated fans, celebs take aim at a nearby basketball hoop, bust dance moves to blasting tunes, banter with beachgoers, toss footballs around, and lean in for selfies and signatures.

Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith hits during the final round of the 2018 American Century Championship on July 15, 2018. Photo: Adam Trumble

“I love that hole,” Doug Flutie, former NFL quarterback, told Tahoe Magazine. “That’s the way I like to play golf — a little more of a party atmosphere.”

In 2018, the sea of partiers was deeper than ever. The fan attendance record at the celebrity golf tournament on the South Shore was broken for the fourth consecutive year with 57,097 tickets sold for the six-day event.

Ben Higgins, alum of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” said the Edgewood Tahoe course is set up perfectly for both a peaceful outing on the greens and a fun time near the beach.

NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and Kathryn Tappen smile before the final round of the 2018 American Century Championship. Photo: Adam Trumble

“You kind of get back in the woods and it’s quiet and then you can get up against the beach here and it gets loud and it gets fun,” he said. “I think that’s what makes this so fun as a tournament — just the energy that the people who come here put out.”

With that in mind, Higgins said playing in the ACC for the first time in 2018 was everything he hoped for and more.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald watches a shot during the final round of last year’s American Century Championship. Photo: Adam Trumble

“Not only do you have Tahoe and a beautiful course, but you have some incredible people who are hall of famers, who have stories to tell, all just kind of hanging out and enjoying the friendship,” Higgins said.

Flutie, a two-time ACC participant, said the friendships formed among the celebrity golfers is what makes the event so special.

Tony Romo hoists the 2018 American Century Championship trophy after the tourney’s final round on July 15, 2018. Photo: Justin Scacco

“When it comes down to it,” Flutie said, “it’s everyone getting together enjoying themselves for a few days — yes, being competitive — but the camaraderie is fantastic.”

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