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Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am celebrities add spice to tournament

It is predawn, and Elissa Dooman is already in her office at TPC Tampa Bay. As tournament manager of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, Dooman has celebrities to make happy.

This week, that's more than a full-time job.

Dooman has e-mails to answer, phone calls to make, reservations to solidify and countless other issues to handle. As a celebrity pro-am, this week's Champions Tour event is unique. The 78 touring professionals are paired with an amateur player. Ten of those amateurs are celebrities, brought in by Dooman and her staff to entertain the crowd and play a little golf.

Her job is to make them want to come back.

"We've got to fly them in, get their hotel reservations taken care of, get them any ground travel that they need. I handle all that," Dooman said. "I get some assistance during the week. I'm pulled in a million different directions (this) week. But for the most part, the celebrities are pretty low maintenance.

"It's a long week, but that's what we work all year for."

• • •

Before the 2004 tournament, Outback Steakhouse took over sponsorship from Verizon. The Champions Tour has been in Tampa Bay since 1988, and until then it was a 54-hole stroke-play event.

But Outback CEO Chris Sullivan changed the format to a pro-am, modeled after the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.

The tournament and its new director, Amy Hawk, had little time to put together the 2004 event. Notable celebrities that year included singer Vince Gill and actor Chris O'Donnell.

Dooman took more of a role in the celebrity part of the tournament after 2004. The celebrity list hit a peak in 2007, when Bill Murray agreed to play. Since then, stars like Mark Wahlberg, George Lopez, Kevin Costner and Huey Lewis have come to Lutz.

"I can tell you that 99 percent of the celebrities we've obtained have come through personal relationships," Dooman said. "It's very difficult to find celebrities who golf and then make all the necessary phone calls to managers and agents. You send them the information, and then you follow up. I don't know that we've ever gotten a celebrity like that, but we try every year. It's usually through relationships."

While the tournament has had big names, it lacks star power this year. Gill is back, as is Michael J. Fox, although he will be there only Friday and is not playing. John O'Hurley of Seinfeld fame will tee it up, as will Craig T. Nelson and Joe Don Rooney of the band Rascal Flatts. Former NFL players Emmitt Smith, Derrick Brooks, Sterling Sharpe and Joe Theismann will be there, too. Lopez, Murray, Costner, Wahlberg, Lewis and Vinny Testaverde are unable to attend.

Dooman, 31, said she starts early trying to get celebrities. She must first find out which ones play golf then figure out a way to get them. Her wish list includes Kevin James, Ray Romano and Adam Sandler.

"We've been trying to get them out here," Dooman said. "If they just came once, they would absolutely love it. In (James and Sandler's) cases, they are both filming right now. It can be difficult. You know it's usually going to be a last-minute thing."

• • •

After the switch to a pro-am, the pros still seemed to embrace the tournament. It lost Jack Nicklaus in 2004 because he wasn't allowed to play with son Steve. Otherwise, the field has not suffered. Even with a change from February to mid April, the top players on tour still attend.

The amateurs pay to play: $12,000 each. With 68 paying, that comes to $816,000. And it's why the tournament limits the field to 10 celebrities.

"We like to keep it at 10 to make things manageable," Dooman said. "It's also financial. The celebrities don't pay to play."

But they draw crowds — and not just golf fans.

"It helps our tournament appeal to a broad spectrum of people," she said. "You're not just getting the golf fans out here, you're getting people interested in football or people who love celebrity sightings. They want to get a picture with a celebrity or an autograph. Our format lends itself to that."

. Fast facts

Outback Steakhouse

Pro-Am

What: Champions Tour event

When/where: Friday-Sunday; TPC Tampa Bay, Lutz (par 71, 6,828 yards)

Purse: $1.7 million ($255,000 winner's share)

TV: 12:30-2:30 p.m. Friday, Golf Channel; 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 8; 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 8

Schedule: Today — Laser Spine Institute Challenge, 10 a.m. shotgun start; Thursday — Laser Spine Institute Challenge, 10 a.m. shotgun start; Friday — first round; Saturday — second round; Sunday — final round

Details: (813) 265-4653; outbackproam.com

Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am celebrities add spice to tournament 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 9:56pm]

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