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Autograph Seekers Tee Off at Celebrity Golf Tournaments

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

If you've never attended a celebrity tournament, let's set the record straight. This is more about seeing celebrities, getting a few autographs, and possibly a conversation. Watching golf? That's definitely secondary.

It's become so popular that several years ago a group of golfing buddies from the sporting world decided to establish the Celebrity Golf Tour. Thus far, it's working quite well. The tour has 15 tournaments each year and continues to grow.

Ask Aldo Ricetti about celebrity golf tournaments and be prepared for a mouthful. He visits quite a few. At each one he carries a bag of items to be autographed. Unlike more enterprising folks out to make a buck, he does it for fun, not profit.

That was Ricetti slipping out of his Clayton, Calif., home in the darkness recently on a Thursday morning. He wasn't heading to his job at St. Mary's College. Instead, he was pursuing his hobby. "I'm an autograph collector, I come to every celebrity tournament I can," said Ricetti, age 64.

Two hours after leaving home, Clayton was the first spectator to pull into a parking space at the Lincoln Hills Club near Sacramento, CA. Let the fun begin. On a beautiful September morning, Ricetti was checking out the golf course by 7 a.m., watching the first groups of the pro-am tee off at the Toyota Celebrity Players Cup.

For a veteran autograph seeker like Ricetti, this was the day to show up. There were only sparse crowds and the celebrities were not taking their pro-am round too seriously. Camped at the ninth hole under the shade of a tree around mid-morning, Ricetti was in a prime spot to approach for autographs, a one-person gallery.

He received his wish when former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Mike Sianni knocked an approach shot within inches of the pin and tapped in for a second straight birdie. A smiling Sianni signed for Ricetti and also showed off his Super Bowl ring.

"He did all that and I'm not even a Raiders fan," laughed Ricetti. "I like the Niners. I get these autographs because it's something I started doing with my grandson. I've been to a lot of different ones. For me it's just a lot of fun. I'm not like the two guys I saw earlier from E-bay. You know what they are out here for."

It's no hobby for folks like the eBay pair, simply business. Getting a celebrity to sign a certain item can definitely be turned into a profit at an on-line auction. The celebrities understand the game, which is why many of them are reluctant signers these days. "There are a lot of people trying to profit on our names," former NBA scoring champ George Gervin said.

At the driving range at Lincoln Hills, Steve Sierra and a friend were on the lookout. Like Ricetti, they had a bag of articles (balls, hats, etc.) ready to be signed. The pair no doubt had traveled the furthest for the tournament, leaving the Los Angeles area Wednesday.

Sierra, 39, found out about the event while attending a similar one by accident in Chicago. He checked the schedule that day, saw the CPT was in Lincoln and vowed to make the trip, bringing along his friend, who didn't want to be identified. "He doesn't want to say his name, he took off a few days of work," Sierra said.

The pair was hoping to locate legendary running back Jim Brown, who isn't playing in the pro-am, but was around on the weekend. It wouldn't ruin their day. There were plenty of other autographs to hunt down.

"These are guys I grew up watching, guys I admired like George Gervin, Jack Marin, Rollie Fingers, Gary Carter," Sierra said. "It's cool watching them and trying to get an autograph, especially if they are nice to you. And most of them are."

Helen Decker and Betty Bishop of Paradise, Calif., made a day trip to Lincoln for the same reason. A couple of senior citizens, they also love the opportunity to view a sports legend they might have watched on television.

"I've got an entire room at home with autographs and pictures," Bishop said. "These are people you would never get to see any other time but in a place like this. We love coming to events like this and being able to meet them."

For the most part, the celebrities understand the drill. Their graciousness makes tournaments like this one work. They also enjoy the golf, the chance to meet old friends, make new ones, plus raise money for charity.

"These pro-ams are nice," Gervin said. "A lot of people you play with or talk to tell you how much they admired your play. That's special. I like rubbing elbows with them." Of course, not as much as they love rubbing elbows with him.

Jeffrey WeidelJeffrey Weidel, Contributor

Jeffrey Weidel has been working in the Sacramento area as a sportswriter since 1981. An avid golfer with a 10.6 index, he is currently the Assistant Sports Editor of The Press-Tribune, a three-day a week paper in Roseville.

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