Travelers Championship likely to remain a Connecticut destination

Michael Cohen

TPC River Highlands hosts one of the few PGA Tour events to boast a hometown sponsor.

Professional golf has been a staple of the Hartford, Conn., area for decades, and if all goes as planned, the Travelers Championship will remain as title sponsor of the popular PGA Tour stop for years to come.

“We would love every opportunity to keep going with this,” Andy Bessette, the insurance giant’s executive VP and chief administrative officer, told SBNation by phone recently. “It’s up to the tour.”

The current six-year contract expires in 2014, but Bessette expected his company to ink a new deal by the end of the summer.

Travelers took over the former Greater Hartford Open and Buick Championship in 2007 and has made the event into one of the best on tour. In addition to attracting top names (U.S. Open winner Justin Rose will headline this week’s contest), it is one of the few backed by a local corporation.

“We’re proud to be one of four or five hometown sponsors on the PGA Tour,” Bessette said.

It’s no hyperbole to note that without Hartford-based Travelers there would be no PGA Tour competition in Connecticut. The course was prepared to host a Champions Tour event when Travelers stepped in.

“We actually had no date on the calendar. It was literally, actually gone, off the calendar,” tournament director Nathan Grube told us.

While many players -- including Bubba Watson, who chalked up his first tour victory in Cromwell in 2010; New England native and 2011 PGA champ Keegan Bradley; and 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson -- make the Travelers an annual destination, so do golf fans. With events like on-course concerts, junior pro-ams, and this year’s inaugural celebrity mini-golf tourney on a nine-hole miniature circuit on the grounds of the course and featuring actor Alec Baldwin, the Travelers has cadged several tour awards, including Most Fan Friendly.

With Cromwell about an hour from Newtown, site of the horrific December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, tourney organizers wanted to do something to support their neighbors. To that end, Travelers, in conjunction with The First Tee, will train coaches during tournament week to teach golf and the First Tee tenets in area summer camps.

“We are taking their lead regarding where they are in the healing process and what role we can play," Grube said. "The emphasis on the 'Life Skills' aspect of the The First Tee programming is something that we all felt appropriate."

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