Travelers Insurance, whose contract with the PGA Tour is slated to expire in 2014, expects to remain as host of the Connecticut tournament that bears its name and that the Hartford-based company rescued from near-oblivion six years ago.
“We would love every opportunity to keep going with this,” Andy Bessette, Travelers’ executive VP and chief administrative officer, told us by phone recently. “It’s up to the tour.”
The current contract expires in 2014 and the two parties must ink a new pact by end of this August, said Bessette, who noted that he knew of no reason for the tour to want out.
“We’ve said pretty openly that we’ve been very pleased [with the Travelers Championship],” Bessette said. “Everything has met or exceeded our expectations and we’re in conversations with the tour right now to make sure that they want us to extend.”
Since taking over the former Greater Hartford Open and Buick Championship in 2007, the Travelers has grown into one of the best events on the tour’s annual calendar, and with good reason: the first of two New England stops (the Deutsche Bank Championship takes place at TPC Boston over Labor Day weekend) attracts some of the biggest names in golf, gives back to its Hartford community in charitable contributions and economic impact, and boasts one of only a handful of local backers.
“We’re proud to be one of four or five hometown sponsors on the PGA Tour,” Bessette said.
Indeed, there would have been no PGA Tour event at TPC River Highlands in the intervening years without the insurance giant, said tourney director Nathan Grube. In fact, when Buick removed itself from the proceedings at the end of 2005, prospects of seeing tour pros again in Cromwell were extremely dim.
“We actually had no date on the calendar. It was literally, actually gone, off the calendar,” said Grube, who noted that plans on a Friday afternoon back then were almost finalized for the course to host a Champions Tour event when Travelers stepped in at the 11th hour. By that Sunday evening, the Travelers Championship was a done deal.
Since Travelers signed on, the tourney has garnered a slew of awards — most recently, Most Fan Friendly, Best Sponsor Integration, Best Use of Players. Catering to fans means offering concerts on the golf course (Three Dog Night will perform on June 22), hosting a junior pro-am for 36 kids who raise the most money for their chosen community charities, and First Tee-related clinics with tour pros.
And, of course,there’s the the big, red floating umbrella. During the players’ practice round on Tuesday, the golfer who hits his ball closest to the Travelers logo in the middle of a pond wins $10,000 for the charity of his choice.
New this year will be a celebrity mini-golf tournament on a nine-hole miniature track built between holes one and 18 of the actual course. Two winning teams, comprised of local media and A-listers will earn $2,500 each for designated charities.
Philanthropy is a critical part of the tour event, which has raised more than $30 million for local charities since 1952 (when the tourney was the Insurance City Open). Grube believes this year’s event — from June 20-June 23 — will surpass the record amount of nearly $1.2 million charitable donations in 2012.
Specific plans are still evolving, but with two horrific events hitting close to home — the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombings — tourney organizers will pay special tribute to the victims and families affected by both tragedies.
“We want to play any sort of a role in helping [the people of Newtown] heal in any way,” said Grube. “We’re going to try to do whatever we can for them.”
This year, a slew of popular players, including 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson, fan-fave Rickie Fowler, and New England boys Keegan Bradley and James Driscoll, have committed to the event, which launched Watson into superstar status with his first win in 2010.
As to whether organizers will ever succeed in luring newly crowned Players Championship winner Tiger Woods to Hartford, Grube gushed about the guys who show up year after year.
“We’re thrilled with the field,” he said. “We wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminerWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?