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Tournament isn’t all about golf

Tournaments on the PGA Tour are often thought of as events that start up on Thursday and culminate on Sunday, and that it’s all about watching the world’s greatest golfers ply their trade.

And sure, that’s a big part of it. But really, there’s a lot more to any tournament, and in particular this week’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin.

Several events tied to the tournament have been taking place since Saturday. And much of the activity has centered on raising money or providing services to those who need it most.

For example: Sunday’s Goodie Two Shoes Foundation’s Rockin’ Walk, which helped provide needy children with shoes; United Healthcare’s Team Smile provided tens of thousands of dollars of dental service to underserved children on Monday; also Monday, the Charley Hoffman Foundation Pro-Am took place, with the former UNLV golf star helping raise money for several local charities; and Tuesday’s Kick off Your Heels luncheon, part of the tournament’s Women’s Day, raised money for Shriners Hospitals.

Today, Timberlake and a host of other celebrities will take part in the MGM Resorts International Championship Pro Am at TPC Summerlin. Tonight, actor Brad Garrett will host a party with free admission on The Hill — a 22,000-square-foot area overlooking the 16th, 17th and 18th holes. The Hill has become a spectator favorite, offering a wide array of food and drink options, activities and a viewing area with several flat-screen TVs (great for keeping up on the weekend football action).

All that, and the first ball hasn’t even been teed up for the PGA Tour event. That will come at 7 a.m. Thursday.

“We’ve done so much, and we keep growing,” tournament director Adam Sperling said, adding that this year, before spectators even reach the course, they’ll pass a huge expo area with upwards of 20 tents. “We’re excited to see how it’s embraced. It feels like we’ve made some penetration into the community, and we hope our excitement is shared.

“We’re ready to hear what the public thinks about it, and we’re all as excited about the event as we’ve ever been.”

And with good reason. Not just because of what’s already taken place, but because the tournament has one of its strongest fields in years.

Sperling reeled off a laundry list of notable players: 2010 Shriners champ Jonathan Byrd, 2009 champ Martin Laird, Nick Watney, Chez Reavie, Jhonattan Vegas, Kyle Stanley, Trevor Immelman and Chris DiMarco.

Watney, a Henderson resident, and Hoffman lead a host of players with local ties, including Ryan Moore, Chad Campbell, Kevin Na, Chris Riley, Bill Lunde, Andres Gonzales and Scott Piercy, who won the Reno PGA Tour event last month to earn a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“I think we’ve got a great field,” Sperling said. “Three guys were in Atlanta (last week) at the Tour Championship — Watney, Bird and Reavie. I love the field. I’m really happy and really appreciative of the guys who support our tournament.”

Of course that includes the pros who live here now or grew up here or played at UNLV.

“As a person who lives in Las Vegas, I appreciate that Nick Watney is playing here in our tournament,” said Sperling, noting Watney was in contention for the FedEx Cup title and hasn’t had a break in weeks. “He’s got a lot of golf left to play, and he’s played seven of the last nine (events). But he’s gonna play here.

“This is a pressure time of year. The fact that Nick and Martin Laird and others continue to come back and support this tournament, I’m indebted to them. Personally, I can’t express how important that is.”

Sperling said the participation of PGA Tour pros with local ties has helped the tournament become exactly what he’s envisioned.

“We’ve said it before, in order for the tournament to succeed, it has to become a true community event, and the players are part of that community — our local pros.”

A few of the locals already got a peek at the course and came away with a favorable impression.

“Charley Hoffman and (Bonanza High graduate) Scott Piercy were in my office (last week), and both of them said the course is in great shape,” said Sperling, noting the course will have a bit more bite to it this year. “It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve had rough.”

That should make things a bit more challenging for the players and more intriguing for the fans, who will also be treated to a post-tournament “Toast the Champion” party on The Hill on Sunday night, featuring renowned golf commentator David Feherty.

It’s all just part of a huge week, including the Justin Timberlake and Friends concert Saturday night at Planet Hollywood Resort. A pretty full slate, to be sure, but it does come back to the players over the next four days.

“It’s a really good field. The players want to be seen, and the more people we get out here, the more excitement we get,” Sperling said.

Sperling has been around the golf world, seeing and doing it all in a variety of roles — and he oversaw last year’s stunning finish at TPC Summerlin, when Byrd won on a hole-in-one at No. 17 in a playoff. Yet Sperling is most amped up for this year’s Vegas stop.

“I’ve probably worked close to 30 events — majors, Ryder Cups, the AT&T at Pebble Beach, tournaments that Tiger (Woods) has won,” he said. “Personally, I’ve never been more excited about a tournament than I am this year, without a doubt.”

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