• MY SHOT
Hartford hangs ontoits history, no thanks to the PGA Tour
When the TravelersChampionship takes place this week at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.,it will represent more than the against-all-odds survival of a 55-year-old PGATour stop. It will also prove that hard work and determination can sometimesprevail over disloyalty and greed.
Since the GreaterHartford Jaycees substituted the tournament for turtle races as their chieffundraiser, the largest sporting event in Connecticut has had as many names asElizabeth Taylor has had husbands, landing for now on the TravelersChampionship.
June 24, 2007
Through all thename changes the tournament became the second-best-attended event on Tour(after Phoenix) and raised more than $25¬†million for charity. Hartford sawits share of history too: Arnold Palmer earned his first pro win on U.S. soilthere in 1956, and in 2003 Suzy Whaley became the first woman to qualify for aTour event when she played her way in.
Whaley'sappearance, and the buzz it generated, helped the tournament get through atough year. In 2002 Canon ended its 18-year run as title sponsor, sending theJaycees scrambling to put together a one-year, $4 million bridge plan thatwould keep the tournament alive while they sought a new deal. They eventuallysigned Buick, but the company's relatively small investment forced the Jayceesto raise another $3¬†million from local businesses. At the same time, theJaycees worked to meet escalating Tour demands, such as building a new practicearea and hiring a full-time tournament director.
You would think theTour would place some value on Hartford's long tradition and effort, but thesuits in Ponte Vedra Beach had their eyes on bigger money. In January 2006--onFriday the 13th, no less--the Tour announced its new, 37-event FedEx Cupseries, and the Buick Championship was not part of it. Instead, the tournamentwas offered a spot in the Fall Series.
That didn't go oververy well. Fans, the media and Tour pros Brad Faxon and Connecticut nativeJ.J.¬†Henry, who were on the tournament board, cried foul. Following thatlead, the Jaycees decided not to accept the fall dates. Instead, they regroupedand pursued new deals with the Champions and LPGA tours and were on the vergeof signing up with the seniors when, to everyone's surprise, the 84 LumberClassic was canceled and a spot in the FedEx Cup schedule opened up.
The Jaycees spranginto action, and even Tour commissioner Tim Finchem marveled at how quicklythey put together a four-year deal, with a two-year option, with TravelersInsurance. So Hartford was back in business, and now Travelers is doingeverything possible to help the event regain its stature. The purse wasincreased from $4.4¬†million to $6¬†million, and a $5¬†million,state-of-the-art practice range will be ready in 2008. Plus, a chartered jetferried players and their families from the U.S.¬†Open to Connecticut.
Once left for dead,the little tournament that could, the Travelers Championship, may soon bestronger than ever. The Jaycees deserve it.
Bruce Berlet hasbeen a Hartford Courant reporter for 37 years.
by JIM GORANT
USGA setup man Mike Davis understands tough but fair.
By making the '03 GHO, Suzy became the first woman to qualify for a Tourevent.