The $3 million Reno-Tahoe Open gets under way Thursday, the same day the world's top golfers start play in the NEC Invitational World Golf Championships in Ohio.
Twenty-six of the 132 players at Reno are ranked among the Top 100 on the tours money list. The highest is Woody Austin at No. 32 because the World Golf Championship field includes the top 50 players in the World Golf rankings as well as members of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams.
Notah Begay III, who won the inaugural Reno-Tahoe Open as a rookie in 1999, is the first past champion to return to the Montreux Golf and Country Club. Other past winners, including Scott Verplank, John Cook and 2002 champion Chris Riley, have used their victories to help qualify for the next year's World Golf Championship competition.
Those who have played the tree-lined, mountain course on the edge of the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe praise it conditions. The 7,472-yard course was designed by Jack Nicklaus.
The golfers also are drawn by dry, cool weather in the shadow of the 10,800-foot Mount Rose, not to mention a chance to try their luck at the casinos.
'If they are not in the top 50 and they are not Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, it's like, `Man, we're going to Reno,'' tournament director Jim Kline said.
'Caddies will tell you that for them, other than The Players Championship, this is the best event out there,' he said.
They gush over the catered food tent reserved for them. Not that they and their bosses don't prefer the alternative.
'A lot of the players will say they same thing -- 'Jim, I love Reno. I hope I'm not playing Reno, but I love coming to Reno if I play Reno,'' he said.
'Mark Calcavecchia told me last year, 'I'm not going to the World Golf Championships, I'm going to Reno,'' said Kline, who had to inform the former British Open champion he didn't have a choice, that the PGA Tour would force him to play in Ohio.
'He said, 'Well, I like Reno better than the WGC.' Scott Hoch said the same thing,' he said.
While Calcavecchia, Hoch and the rest are battling Tiger Woods and company, the bottom half of the money list will make a run at the $540,000 winner's check at Reno.
David Sutherland said the victories in the four majors by first-time winners this year shows the depth of the competition on any given weekend.
'PGA Tour players, over the last 10 years, have been screaming how deep the fields are out here,' Sutherland said.
'It puts an exclamation point on what PGA Tour players have been saying,' he said.
Austin has nearly $1.3 million in earnings this year, with three finishes in the top 10 -- a second at the MCI Heritage Classic, a seventh at the HP Classic and a tie for eighth at the Honda Classic. He finished tied for 27th last week at 9 over in the PGA Championship.