HARTFORD, Conn. – It’s official.
The Travelers Championship set a new tournament record for money raised for charity of more than $2.1 million despite heavy rain that caused some logistical problems at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell and several marquee players failing to make the cut.
The funds were distributed to representatives from participating nonprofits at the annul Travelers Championship Charity Celebration on Tuesday at TPC River Highlands. This year’s total surpassed the $2 million generated last year, when Bubba Watson donated $200,000 of his $1,260,000 winnings to tournament officials after his third victory, one shy of the record of Hall of Famer Billy Casper.
“I look forward to this event every year because, ultimately, this is what the tournament is all about,” tournament director Nathan Grube said. “The Charity Celebration is a culmination of the work that goes into the Travelers Championship and the support we receive from volunteers, fans, players, sponsors and the PGA Tour. Everything we do is to benefit worthy organizations that are making a difference in peoples’ lives.”
The tournament donates 100 percent of its net proceeds to charity, and this year’s record effort brings the amount generated to nearly $20 million since Travelers became title sponsor in 2007. At least 750 charities have benefited over the time, and the current chief beneficiary is The Hole in the Wall Gang in Ashford, founded by the late actor Paul Newman.
“The Travelers is committed to taking care of our communities, and the money we generate from the Travelers Championship is just one way we are making a positive impact on nonprofits in the region,” said Andy Bessette, executive president and chief administrator officer of the Travelers. “Today’s event gives the tournament’s charitable beneficiaries a chance to tell their story, and we are proud to support them in their pursuit of helping others.”
Chez Reavie rallied to earn his second PGA Tour win in June, holding off Vermont native Keegan Bradley for his first title since the 2008 RBC Canadian Open in his rookie season.
“I want to congratulate Travelers and the Travelers Championship on generating over $2 million for 150 charities,” Reavie said in a tournament release. “I feel very privileged to be a part of that and look forward to doing it again next year.”
Preparations are already underway for the 2020 Travelers Championship on June 25-28, the week after the U.S. Open at Mamaroneck Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. The tournament is off to a great start with the extremely early commitment of Rory McIlroy, the second-ranked player in the world who was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year last week after winning the 2018-19 season-ending Tour Championship and the FedExCup title for the second time.
McIlroy was at TPC River Highlands in 2017 and 2018, but scheduling conflicts caused him to bypass Connecticut’s biggest sporting event this year. McIlroy gave the early commitment to Grube and Besssette before winning the Tour Championship three weeks ago. The personable, straight-talking Northern Irishman notched a four-stroke victory to win the record $15 million first prize in the FedExCup race. He joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win that title twice, moving to second in the rankings behind Brooks Koepke, the first player to commit to this year’s Travelers Championship in January who earned PGA of America Player of the Year via a points system.
“I really missed playing at TPC River Highlands this year, so I’m looking forward to coming back in 2020,” McIlroy said in a tournament release. “The Travelers Championship is one of the best events on the PGA Tour with a tremendous atmosphere, great fans, an awesome practice facility and now a new clubhouse that I can’t wait to see.”
McIlroy, 30, had one of his best PGA Tour seasons ever with 14 Top-10 finishes in 19 starts. He also won The Players Championship and RBC Canadian Open, matching Koepka for most victories on the PGA Tour. McIlroy now has 17 PGA Tour titles, which includes four major championships: the 2011 U.S. Open, 2014 Open Championship and 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship. He’ll again try to become only the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam in the Masters in April.
McIlroy was the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2012 and 2014 and won his first FedExCup title in 2016 and the Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke average three times, including this year (69.06).
“Rory had an outstanding season this year, and his victory in the Tour Championship added to his legacy on the PGA Tour,” Grube said. “He is one of those guys who is very aware of his schedule multiple years in advance, and it’s amazing how much he plays attention to it. We appreciate his early commitment as we continue our focus on making next year’s Travelers Championship our best tournament yet.”
McIlroy tied for 17th in his Travelers Championship debut in 2017 and then shared 12th in 2018. He turned pro in 2007, has eight wins on the European Tour, has been a member of five European Ryder Cup teams and has been ranked No. 1 in the world for 95 weeks.
Another record amount was raised for charity this year because advance ticket and corporate sales were ahead of their 2018 pace. And the tournament was ahead of three areas that are measured – merchandise, concessions and the gate. The latter was helped by early commitments from highly ranked players such as Watson, Koepka, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay and 2012 champion Marc Leishman. Toss in the late additions of Louis Oosthuizen and former champions Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, and the tournament ended up with the best field since Travelers became title sponsor.
The new record take was realized despite the weather having an impact from Tuesday through early Friday afternoon. Gravel and mats were brought in to help prevent the mud from being a major issue, and play was never stopped on the course, much of which is built on a former sand/gravel pit, allowing for excellent drainage. Gravel and mat paths also were placed around the Fan Zone, but work could only be done at night or very early in the morning.
“I don’t have exact figures on how much gravel and mats were brought in, but it was a lot, and they were a life-saver,” Grube said. “We reacted (to the weather), and that’s what you try to do. We were being as pro-active as possible to ensure the best possible experience for our fans. Weather early in the week had us getting creative with how we were handling it, but we received several comments from fans and sponsors that they appreciated the steps we were taking to make sure their experience onsite was as good as it could be. (Senior Director of Operations) Kevin Harrington and his team did a phenomenal job working with Mother Nature tournament week.”
The weather, combined with Mickelson, playing in Cromwell for the first time in 16 years, and Spieth missing the cut didn’t help. And Watson and a weary Koepka, who repeated as PGA Championship winner five weeks earlier, had early starting times Saturday and Sunday, finishing their rounds before the leaders started. Still, the tournament drew an estimated 250,000 fans, though Grube continued to not announce attendance figures. But he did say “with the charity number being up year over year, I think it would be safe to say that we had similar support to last year from our fans and sponsors attending the event.”
And everyone witnessed another thrilling finish, though nothing can compare with Spieth holing a 61-foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole to defeat Daniel Berger in 2017. It’s the only time in PGA Tour history that a player made a bunker shot in a playoff to win.
Reavie rallied from six strokes behind Zack Sucher midway through the third round to forge a tournament-record, six-stroke lead after 54 holes thanks to a back-nine, 7-under-par 28 as the last player in the field via a Korn Ferry Tour exemption shot 40. But with two holes left in the final round, Reavie’s lead was down to one shot over Bradley before the Vermont native made double-bogey 6 at No. 17 and Reavie sank a 14-foot birdie putt to clinch his second PGA Tour victory.
Reavie, who had tied for third in the U.S. Open the previous week, could stroll down the 18th hole knowing he had won the $1,296,000 first prize five years removed from major left-wrist surgery that cost him the 2014 season. The win gave Reavie a PGA Tour exemption through 2022 and earned him a spot in the 2020 Masters, PGA Championship and Players Championship after he hadn’t finished better than a tie for 11th (2012) in eight previous tournament appearances.
“When I was in a long-arm cast after my wrist surgery, I went and met with the doctor, and he said the surgery went great,” Reavie said after his first victory in 250 starts and 3,983 days. “But there was a 50/50 shot whether it was going to work, and there was no guarantee that I wasn’t going to go make one full swing when he allowed me to and it wasn’t going to happen again. So those were probably the darkest days. Just the unknown and sitting at home not being able to do anything and your mind wandering, ‘Okay, if it didn’t work, if I can’t play golf, what am I going to do?’
“So this win means everything. I knew Keegan was going to come out firing and ready to go. I’ve played a lot of golf with him, and he’s a fantastic player. I just was fortunate enough to stay patient and make that big putt on 17 to give myself a little cushion on 18. Being in the second-to-last group the last day of the U.S. Open definitely gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week, and particularly (Sunday). I played really well on Sunday at the U.S. Open, and I tried to treat this week the same as I did then.”
In keeping with Bessette’s rallying cry “the status quo is unacceptable,” the tournament’s latest major improvement was a new 40,000-square-foot clubhouse, four times the size of the original building. It drew rave reviews from players and fans and came after a $5 million state-of-the-art practice facility, which included The First Tee of Connecticut Learning Center and adjacent four-hole mini-course geared toward more than 70,000 youngsters involved with the program, opened in 2014 and $3 million in course renovations focusing on the fairways and bunkers were done after the 2016 tournament.
“The new clubhouse provides players with modern, world-class locker rooms, a dining area for them and their families, spacious protection if the weather turns bad and other necessary services,” Bessette said. “From the practice area to the golf course to the clubhouse, we want to provide PGA Tour players the best facilities we possibly can.
“We look at everything, and we’ve already turned the page and begun preparations for the 2020 Travelers Championship. There are no details too small when we analyze and discuss ways to make next year’s tournament an even better experience for everyone: players, volunteers, sponsors and the fans.”