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How the Travelers Championship overcame the turmoil and became a PGA Tour staple

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CROMWELL, Conn. — How is it that the small town Travelers Championship has become one of the most prominent tournaments on the PGA Tour, despite being right after the US Open?

It started with a turtle race.

In 1951, the Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) needed a way to raise money. So he organized a “Turtle Derby” at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. The idea grew out of a successful turtle race to raise money for the Jaycees in Evansville, Indiana. In Hartford, however, things were not the same.

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The racing turtles were lost while being shipped from Louisiana, and the Jaycees had to dive into a local pond to find replacement creatures. Despite the last effort to save the fundraiser, it did not raise enough funds. So the Jaycees’ next effort was to write a letter to the PGA of America requesting to host a golf tournament.

Lo and behold, a year later, the Insurance City Open was born on August 29 at the Wethersfield Country Club. Ted Kroll won and took home $2,400 from a $15,000 prize pool. Total attendance was 20,000.

Behind a host of corporate sponsors and local government support, the tournament has been held annually for the past 70 years, amassing a unique history, raising millions of dollars for charity and becoming a landmark weekend in the status and on the Tour calendar.

“I remember Rory [McIlroy] Speaking of which, when he came to play or for the first time, he was like, ‘Man, these fans are so appreciative, and so into this, and so appreciative, and like, so gracious, and they’re showing up at 6:50 in the morning. . I mean, you just don’t get that everywhere,'” Nathan Grube, who has been the Travelers Championship tournament director since 2005, told GolfChannel.com.

In 1967, the tournament was renamed the Greater Hartford Open, its better-known nickname, as tournament organizers wanted to expand their sponsorships beyond Hartford’s insurance companies.

Entertainment legend Sammy Davis Jr. attached his name to the tournament from 1973 to 1988, attracting a host of celebrities, including Michael Jordan, Sandy Koufax, Lawrence Taylor, Wayne Gretzky, and President Gerald R. Ford, for the pro- A.M. It also once drew the largest crowd of any Tour event, although it is now the second annual after the WM Phoenix Open.

“It’s really great for the city of Hartford, it seems like everyone in the entire city is here in [hole] 18 and it’s an amazing experience,” said 2021 champion Harris English.

In 1984, as the event continued to grow in importance, it moved to its current headquarters of TPC River Highlands (then called TPC of Connecticut) in Cromwell, a city that currently has a population of about 14,000 and is spread only for 13 square miles. The new site came with increased parking space, corporate boxes and a more suitable Tour course.

Canon became the main sponsor of the tournament in 1985. But in 2002, the company announced that it was ending its participation in the event due to a “change in strategy”.

Suddenly, after 50 years in a row, the future of the tournament was in jeopardy, struggling to find a new sponsor.

“We’re running against the clock, and if we’re not in a significantly better place in three weeks, I think we’re going to have to tell people we’re out of the Tour in 2003,” Roger Gelfenbien, who was chairman of the sponsor’s advisory group. tournament principal, told the Hartford Courant in October 2002.

Since a major sponsor is unlikely to arrive in time for the 2003 event, the board of directors transitioned to a “bridge plan”, which was to raise enough money by November 18 to remain on the Tour schedule. In just one month, the event was saved with $3.75 million in contributions from 32 benefactors, and the tournament continued into 2003 without a title sponsor.

Buick took over in 2004, but only for three years. Grube had not even served a year as director when Buick withdrew its sponsorship from him. After the 2006 edition, there were five months in which the tournament ceased to exist and the event team was figuring out what its next iteration might be.

“It wasn’t a moment where we thought, ‘Man, what’s going to happen?’ We literally started talking to the Champions Tour, we started talking to the LPGA Tour, because we no longer had a date on the PGA Tour schedule for 2007,” Grube said.

Then, in April 2006, 84 Lumber dissolved their contract with the Pennsylvania Classic, and suddenly there was a vacant spot on the Tour schedule.

“The PGA Tour and our team came together and [Travelers] He said, ‘You know what? We want to bring this back now that there’s a date,'” Grube said. “And then, in April 2006, we signed the contract with Travelers. (Executive VP of Travelers) Andy Bessette spearheaded that contract on the Travelers side. And then we announced in April, like, ‘Hey, look, Buick isn’t the last year of the PGA Tour in Connecticut.'”

Although the tournament was back on Tour, there was one caveat: its new date would follow the US Open.

Trying to attract the strongest field possible, Grube kept hearing the same thing from players: the week after the US Open will be “tough.”

So, in response, Grube and Bessette began asking the players a question: “Why?”

“All these reasons that we keep hearing, Andy and I were like, ‘Actually, I think we can do something about this,'” Grube said. “So we started, I mean, it wasn’t one thing, it was 50 little things. But one of the big things that we started with is people always say, ‘Hey, the week after the [U.S.] Open, the boys are tired. So let’s make it as easy as possible to get here.”

The first thing they did was offer a free, nonstop charter flight from a private airport near the US Open location for their players, caddies and their families. When everyone lands in Connecticut, their courtesy cars are ready and accompanying children are greeted with gift packages.


Travelers Championship full field tee times


However, this not all. In terms of those 50 little things, that includes revamping childcare programs, improving the players’ food menu, starting caddy appreciation day, or something as small as fixing a player’s broken phone or replacing an iPad for the player. son of a player who is crying because he lost his. .

“I think it’s a testament that if you put on a really good tournament and you care a lot about it, you can attract the best players in the world,” Patrick Cantlay said, “even if there are some bumps in the road.”

Another key component to owning a strong field year after year is developing relationships with young players through waivers, one of which was Cantlay in 2011. That year at TPC River Highlands, the 19-year-old Cantlay shot 60 in the Round. 2, the lowest on the Tour. round ever by an amateur.

“Giving waivers to Patrick Cantlay when he’s a freshman at UCLA,” Grube said, “and Justin Thomas is a sophomore at the University of Alabama, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, and really, really trying to do our research and our homework on kind of who the next generation is and building relationships with the next generation of kids.

Seventy years after the failed Turtle Race led to the fruition of a Connecticut staple and the Tour, some of golf’s young stars, including Chris Gotterup, Cole Hammer, Benjamin James and Michael Thorbjornsen, will make the trip to the rural Connecticut and will complete a field. which features four of the top five ranked players in the world, which includes Thomas and Cantlay. They will all be vying for a share of a purse that is $7 million more than it was in 1952.

With what has been achieved and surpassed by the tournament, the goal is to continue repeating its cycle while continually evolving. However, the mission of the tournament has been and will always be the same.

“If you go back in time and talk to the people who started (the Insurance City Open), I bet they had some of the same passion as us,” Grube said. “It’s about how we give back to our community. How do we make an impact?”

And that has been the magic formula.

“The tournament is a great success story,” said Cantlay. “I think they’ve got a great field in a tough week on the schedule. The week after the US Open is probably not a week you’d expect a lot of the top players to play. They’ve done a great job with the tournament, with the support. from the community and with Travelers, they do an amazing job this week. It’s definitely one of the best tournaments of the year.”

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