CROMWELL, Connecticut – The Downtown Connecticut Passenger Championship, contested on a cornfield golf course, celebrates its 70th anniversary this week, making it one of the oldest continuous events on the PGA Tour. Over the decades, the tournament changed names and venues, but in a small state that lacks a professional franchise in one of North America’s four leading North American sports (Hartford Waylers left the NHL 25 years ago), Travelers has been a valued mainstay of the Connecticut sports calendar.
He was also valuable to the PGA Tour, reliably attracting some of the biggest crowds during the tour season. He is loved by golfers for his homely approach, which showers the players’ wives and children with personal attention, and this in turn has created many winners such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spit and Buba Watson.
The winner in 1995 was Greg Norman, then No. 1 in the men’s golf rankings. Norman is the CEO of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, which rocked the PGA Tour by luring top golfers with guaranteed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Within two months, the chain threatened the PGA Tour Championship for the first time and potentially inherited tour events as Travelers – which not only entertained golf fans in the South of New England but also attracted sponsorships that led to more than $ 46 million in donations to 800 charities. organizations.
The main beneficiary for most years is a camp in northern Connecticut that helps about 20,000 seriously ill children and their families each year and was founded by a state resident, actor Paul Newman.
The focus of the intense confrontation between PGA Tour and LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has been glaring money offers for already wealthy golfers – along with many geopolitical foundations – but invisible in the fight are others. related parties, such as the valuable golf tournament in Connecticut.
Can LIV Golf, which has planned eight events this year, including five in the United States, eventually increase or decrease Travelers Championship and other 30+ PGA Tour events like it across the country? Mickelson and Johnson, who were recently banned from the tour along with every other LIV Golf deserter, are already missing from the field this week. Mickelson, 52, probably wouldn’t play, but Johnson, the 2020 champion, enthusiastically promised to return to Connecticut in February.
Standing on a hill in a fan gallery overlooking the 18th hole during Thursday’s first round of Travelers, Jay Hibbard of Woodstock, Connecticut, said Johnson was missed, “but not so much.”
“Dustin took the money and made a choice, but I’m not coming here to support any golfer,” said Hibard, 39. “Most golf fans come for the atmosphere and to see the great golfers up close. And there are plenty of other great champions here this week. ”
Standing nearby, Mike Stanley of Plainville, Connecticut, said: “It’s a little depressing to see things split up because I think it’s natural to want all the best guys to play together. But there are still a bunch of top guys – I watched Rory McIlroy today and then Scotty Scheffler.
Scheffler and McIlroy are first and second in the men’s world rankings and were joined in the Travelers field by four other top 15 golfers. In contrast, no player involved in the LIV Golf tour is ranked in the top 15 in the world.
In the players’ locker room this week, Sahith Theegala, a 24-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour, said players his age were of the same opinion: Their loyalty is to the PGA Tour.
“I come from a modest upbringing,” Teegala said, “and I have a feeling that the value of money has been lost. It just seems like the million dollars that a lot of guys make from this tour is being thrown around like it’s nothing, right?
Asked if he was worried about the future of PGA Tour events like Travelers, Theegala shook his head.
“There is a history and legacy from this tour in which the young boys longed to be a part,” Teegala said. “A new tour has no reputation; you literally only play for money. ”
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He added: “You can’t buy clarity of mind and play with a clear conscience.
Joanna Aversa of Waterbury, Connecticut, who attended her first Travelers, wondered if LIV Golf’s entry into the men’s golf market could expand the sport’s appeal.
“In the past, the golf community was portrayed as very elitist,” she said. “Maybe with some golfers leaving these big contracts, we can get a whole new wave of fans who feel more comfortable because they don’t need to know all the top people and things like that. They can just go out and play good golf and have fun. “
From a financial point of view, Travelers employees said the event was on a solid footing. Nathan Grube, the tournament’s director, said ticket sales for this year’s event were ahead of the tournament in 2019, the last time Travelers were not limited by the pandemic. The tents for corporate hospitality are sold out. With all the net proceeds going to charity, the total donation, which was over $ 2.2 million last year, is expected to grow.
“This is a good place to be right now,” Grube said.
The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for sick children, which Newman founded in 1988, opened this year on the same day as the first round of Travelers. The organization has hospital care programs that take the summer camp experience to children’s beds in dozens of locations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. All programs that are dedicated to helping children with cancer and other diseases such as sickle cell anemia and blood and metabolic disorders are provided free of charge.
“Being the main beneficiary of the Travelers Championship has allowed us to expand our reach,” Ryan Thompson, the camp’s chief communications officer, said on Friday. “It’s much more than a golf tournament; it is a source of community pride for all that contributes. “