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Annual celebrity golf tournament favorite Natalie Gulbis

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The American Century Championship celebrity golf is July 10-15 at Edgewood Tahoe. The event begins with practice rounds and celeb-ams, followed by the three-day tournament, July 13-15.
Jim Krajewski

The celebrities are coming, making their annual migratory return to the shores of Lake Tahoe.

The 29th annual American Century Championship is Tuesday-Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe, starting with practice rounds and celeb-ams Tuesday-Thursday. The three-day ACC tournament, Friday-Sunday, utilizes Stableford scoring, in which points are awarded for pars, birdies and eagles.

Many of the familiar names will be back at Edgewood, along with a first-timer who enters the tournament with a legitimate chance to win, LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis.

Gulbis, 35, has not been able to compete on the LPGA tour in three years as she has endured three back surgeries. She is making her return this season to the women’s tour.

She won the prestigious 2007 Evian Masters along with many other accomplishments as one of the circuit’s most popular players. 

At Edgewood, she follows in the footsteps of celebrity golf special invitee Annika Sorenstam, who finished tied for second in the American Century Championship in 2014, two years into her retirement following a legendary career on the LPGA Tour. 

Gulbis is one of the favorites to win the $600,000 competition and its $125,000 first prize. She is listed at 10-1 by the Harrah’s and Harveys Race and Sports Book, behind three-time defending champion Mark Mulder (5-2), Tony Romo (3-1), Mardy Fish (5-1), Eric Gagne (8-1) and alongside John Smoltz (10-1). 

Gulbis grew up in Sacramento and often attended the celebrity tournament at Tahoe as a child.

“We used to go up and watch with my parents and get autographs from all the athletes. It was such a fun week and such a fun part of my childhood as a junior golfer,” Gulbis said. “As a professional, I thought it would be cool to play in it. And then when Annika played in it, I thought, this is so cool; as soon as I retire I would love to play in this event if they would have me, because I just had such fond memories of going to this event, just because the energy that centered around American Century Championship and to see so many athletes that I already looked up to that also played golf.”

In addition to Gulbis, two other women are in the field, Lisa Cornwell, Golf Channel host; and Kathryn Tappen, NHL on NBC host.

Two-time ACC champion Mark Rypien said the other golfers do not take it easy on the women in the field.

“It’s good to see you back on the golf course playing well again and let’s just make sure you play your best the week after Tahoe,” Rypien said, only half-jokingly, to Gulbis. “We all want your best, Natalie. It’s an extreme honor to have you be a part of this, and look forward to competing against you. When it comes down to the end it is a matter of just whether it’s Annika Sorenstam, arguably one of the greatest women golfers of all the time, or Natalie Gulbis, we want to win. We’re not going to give this thing away.  So you’ve got to go earn it and we wish you the best, Natalie.”

He quickly offered some advice to Gulbis though, saying the high altitude at Lake Tahoe shots will carry farther there than she might be used to.

Gulbis said she does not get to practice as much as she used to, as  she spends about two hours a day on physical therapy

“On a day in, day out basis, I do do more physical therapy.  In times when I would normally practice six, seven hours a day.  Now I practice about three or four hours and the other two hours I spend doing regeneration and PT work. But I would gladly do it.  I love being back on tour and competing and I’m just glad to be able to play golf without pain,” Gulbis said.

The lineup of celebrity golfers at Edgewood includes Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Charles Barkley, Ray Allen, Larry the Cable Guy and 15 Hall of Fame athletes and dozens of All-Stars and All-Pros in the field of 90 athletes and entertainers. 

One popular celebrity who will not be at Edgewood this year is Justin Timberlake, who is touring. Timberlake had suggested he might try to fly in for the event this week, but he was not able to work out his schedule.

Several NFL coaches are in the field and two, Sean Payton and Doug Pederson already have been betting on their golf games.

They made a bet while golfing during the owners meetings earlier this year and Pederson won, so his Philadelphia Eagles will wear home jerseys when they play at Payton’s New Orleans Saints on Nov. 18.

Curry, making his sixth appearance in the tournament, finished fourth last year with 60 Stableford points. He is listed at 15-1 odds to win this year.

MORE: Spectator dos and don’ts for American Century celebrity golf at Tahoe

His father, Dell, in also back in the field.

  • NBA notables include Charles Barkley, a longtime crowd favorite, TNT NBA analyst and Hall of Famer; Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors four-time NBA All-Star point guard; and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame 2018 inductee Ray Allen.
  • The field includes 16 Hall of Famers from various sports as well as current NFL stars Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Jared Goff, Adam Thielen, Alex Smith, Robbie Gould and Golden Tate. Former All-Pro superstars and Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware will be joined by tournament rookie Reggie Bush and former NFL stars Carson Palmer, Sterling Sharpe, Jim McMahon, Rodney Harrison, Joe Theismann, A.J. Hawk, Trent Dilfer and two-time tournament champion Mark Rypien.
  • The Pro Football Hall of Fame list includes Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Charles Woodson, Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, Terrell Davis and newly-elected Brian Urlacher. 

Pederson, head coach of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals are returning and join Payton, making his first appearance. 

  • Entertainers and actors feature Larry the Cable Guy, Ray Romano, Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, Jack Wagner, Ted Simons of Veep, Miles Teller, Fantastic Four, comedian Kevin Nealon, Alfonso Ribeiro, Anthony Anderson and Bruce McGill.
  • The Claret Jug trophy (British Open) will be at Edgewood at hole No. 8 on Wednesday for the public and celebs to take photos.
  • One of the more unusual prop bets is Barkley vs. Mulder, with Barkley getting plus-152 points in the Stableford scoring format.
  • Tickets: $20 per day Tuesday-Thursday; $30 Friday-Sunday at the gate. Discounts are available at Raley’s, BelAir, Nob Hill stores ($17/$27 respectively; w/ $50 grocery purchase: $23 daily for Friday-Sundat, limit four.
  • Active duty service members, reservists, National Guard members, military retirees and veterans will receive complimentary tickets for the 29th annual American Century Championship.

MORE: Hoffman, Smoltz talk baseball, golf and Hall of Fame

Kids 10-under are free with paying adult (two children per adult). The first 500 kids per day (16-under) will receive a free ACC pin flag for autographs

  • NBC broadcast team: Steve Sands, Peter Jacobsen, Notah Begay, Charlie Rymer, Jimmy Roberts, Heather Cox, Michele Tafoya 
  • Broadcast times: Friday NBCSN noon-2 p.m.; Saturday/Sunday NBC noon-3 p.m.
  • The annual tournament has raised more than $5 million for multiple national and area charities and offers free admission to military personnel and guests. With major television exposure (NBC Sports, NBCSN, Golf Channel) and a purse of $600,000, the American Century Championship is the most prestigious celebrity tournament in golf.
  • The 2018 event tees off Friday-Sunday July 13-15 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, a Golf Digest Top 100 rated course on the shores of the largest alpine lake in North America. 

MORE: What you should know American Century Championship if you’re a fan



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