The PGA Tour rolls in the Tournament Players Club at River Highlands in Cromwell June 22-28 as The Travelerís Championship is held.
Some of the top names in golf, including Sergio Garcia, V.J. Singh and last yearís winner Stewart Cink, will compete for a purse of $6 million with $1.08 million going to the winner.
In 2008, Cink won his second title at Cromwell when he shot a 67 on the final day to finish 18-under-par for the tournament and one shot ahead of both Hunter Mahan and Tommy Armour III. Cink became only the fifth player to win the tournament at least twice. Billy Casper won the event four times.
The Travelerís Championship, formerly the GHO, the Sammy Davis, Jr., GHO, Canon GHO and the Buick Championship, has raised around $25 million for Hartford area organizations over the years. The Greater Hartford Jaycees distributes proceeds from the event to a number of charities, including this year the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Ct., founded by the late actor and Connecticut resident Paul Newman in 1988. The camp enables children with cancer and other serious illnesses the ability to enjoy a camping experience of the highest quality at no charge.
This yearís tournament will also mark the debut The First Tee facility near the TPCís new practice range at the entrance to the tournament. Also, there will be a new Fan Zone established on the grounds of the former driving range that will feature interactive displays and exhibits, games and musical concerts following the tournament on the weekend.
Stewart Cink could have merely dialed it in at the Travelerís Championship Media Day in late April, both literally and figuratively.
That he didnít tells you something about the character of the man who won his second title at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Ct. last year. Instead of teleconferencing, Cink flew into Hartford and spent the entire day shaking hands, meeting volunteers and the press and generally enjoying himself.
Cink came to River Highlands because of his belief that PGA Tour players should support venerable tournaments like The Travelerís, which has been a stop on the Tour under various names since 1952. Backing up his words is nothing new for Cink. Heís a member of the PGA Tour policy board and has been working hard to convince other players, even the elite, that they need to support and play in tournaments like The Travelerís instead of merely focusing their schedules around the majors and the World Golf Championship events.
ďAs the players play, the fields are better and the value is up for television, for the sponsors and itís a better world for all of us,Ē said Cink, who has won five times on Tour. ďThat has been difficult to get across. I think it would be very helpful if the players once in a while supported every tournament.Ē
Cink praised The Travelerís for committing to the tournament through 2014, giving the event a stability that only a few tourneys enjoy in these uncertain economic times. While expressing disappointment that the top players donít compete in more events, Cink said he understands one of the major problems.
ďThe travel is the one difficult part of what we do out here. If you take the difficulty and stumbling blocks out of the equation, then thereís less reason for anybody to say no.Ē
Cink has won almost $26 million on Tour and recorded three wins on the then Nike Tour and two international victories in addition his five PGA Tour triumphs. He won the 1997 Canon Greater Hartford Open. He enjoyed a superb year in 2008, winning almost $4 million and finishing 20th on the money list, highlighted by his win at the Travelerís.
The 6-4, 205-pound Cink is a native of Huntsville, Al.
Golfing Magazine caught up with ďThe Boomer,Ē ESPNís indomitable anchor Chris Berman, at the 2009 Travelerís Championship Media Day at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Ct. Hereís what ďBoomĒ had to say:
GM: Personally, how important is The Travelerís Championship to you?
CB: Itís very important. This is Connecticut on a national scale. Yes, we have basketball. What Geno (Auriemma) and Jim (Calhoun) have done is amazing, and we had a hockey team in the NHL but that was a dozen years ago. This tournament is almost 60 years old. Same Snead won here. The first black man to win on Tour won this, and Arnold Palmer won this tourney. This is momentum for the state and Iím happy to see Connecticut on a national stage. Thereís buzz here every year and The Travelerís has upped the tournament. What can potentially come back to the community is amazing, as it always has been.
GM: How is the tournament different in your eyes?
CB: Well, this can still grow and it is. They are doing more for the community, bringing in fun things for the kids, concerts and the like, trying to get the non-hard core fans out here. They have the ability to do more things now with the old driving range available for concerts. They are thinking out of the box.
GM: So you feel the tournament is solid and set for the future?
CB: This is not to knock Buick, who saved us, and not to knock Cannon, which was so great all those years. Each one of those sponsors grew the event. But, Iíd like to see them start marketing this as a regional tournament. Letís face it, what else is there this big on a golf scale in the summer in New England, actually in the Northeast? I know this year we have the U.S. Open at Bethpage in New York. But most years there really is nothing until the Deutsche Bank in Boston in September. And they moved the stop at Westchester to New Jersey.
GM: Where do you think the tournament can draw from that it isnít?
CB: Iíd like to get the Fairfield County and metropolitan New York fans up here. Think about it. Itís only an hourís drive at the most and a half hour to 45 minutes for some parts of Fairfield County. Thatís a huge market and something I donít know if we have tapped into totally. Itís something that I have told the commissioner (Tim Finchem).
GM: What are the strengths of the tournament?
CB: For one, the celebrity pro-am has 12 to 16 real big name celebrities and no one else has that number. Coach (Bill )Belichick, Luke Wilson, Joe Pesci, Ray Allen, George Lopez, these are good names.
GM: Do you get to play much?
CB: I play some and I play in media days and the like. Iím not a great golfer but I enjoy it.
GM: What do you like most about the game?
CB: Itís the camaraderie and being outdoors and away from things for four hours that I enjoy the most. I have some good days where Iíll shoot in the low 80ís. But thereís always that one or two great shots that keeps you coming back for more.
Golfing Magazine chatted with a smiling Nathan Grube, Tournament Director for The Travelers Championship, recently. Hereís what he had to say:
GM: Where the tournament is today, with solid backing from The Travelers, is quite a way from where you were two or three years ago.
NG: Thatís for sure! We were looking at the Champions Tour and the LPGA Tour. We actually had contacts saying that we could be a Champions Tour event. The Travelers came in with a real date and four to six million dollars and said they wanted to do all this stuff and we were sitting back saying, `What happened?í
GM: It must be like hitting the lottery.
NG: Yes, for sure. Now I go to all these events and Iím asked how did we do it. I say, sort of jokingly, that the secret is that you almost have to lose your Tour event and you come back reborn and stronger than ever. Itís almost a different lifetime.
GM: Obviously, when the tournament was in limbo, you were hoping for a big hitter from the state to come in as the main sponsor.
NG: Thatís right. But you look down the Tour schedule and it takes a long time to get a hometown title sponsor. Companies like Sony, Mercedes-Benz, AT&T, Northern Trust. It just doesnít happen that often. When do you really get a local title sponsor for a PGA Tour event? Weíve got one and a great one.
GM: The Travelerís is in it for the long haul?
NG: They have such a presence here and strong support from their volunteers, from their involvement with the community to the tournament. Itís a wonderful thing to see. We couldnít be happier where we are right now.
GM: This is going to be fun year?
NG: We have lots of things planned and are setting up a fan area on the old practice range. Weíll have stuff for the kids, vendors, games and concerts at night. We hope to involve non-golf fans in the tournament as well as those who come for the great golf.
TPC River Highlands,
Fed Ex Cup Points:
Tickets: Tickets may be purchased for $32 ($27 for seniors) at the gate, or $27 ($22 for seniors) online. A competition round ticket is valid any one day, Thursday through Sunday. Tickets to the Wednesday pro-am are $27 ($22 for seniors), and are $22 ($18 for seniors) for the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds. Children 15 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult.
The Low Down: Travelersí long-term commitment to the event and its secure place on the Fed Ed Cup Series calendar through 2014 has resulted in a strong field that this year includes V.J. Singh, Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Anthony Kim, Stuart Appleby, Hunter Mahan and Sean OíHair; The tournament usually comes down to three holes on Sunday, numbers 15 through 17 known as ďThe Golden Triangle,Ē which play around a four-acre lake. When you include the finishing hole, a difficult, uphill par-four, it makes for great theater; Cink also won at River Highlands in 1997; Only five other players have won multiple times; Billy Casper won the event four times; Cinkís winning total of 18-under-par was the fourth lowest total ever for the tournament.