Bruce Berlet: Connecticut Golf Notebook

Travelers Championship Tournament Director Nathan Grube received a “President’s Award” from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance during its Gold Key Dinner where The Travelers Championship received the award which is given to an individual, team or organization that has made a significant and positive impact on the state’s sports landscape. Connecticut’s biggest sporting event covers all of those bases, having raised more than $40 million for more than 750 charities since it began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club, including $16.7 million since Travelers became title sponsor in 2007.

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. – The Travelers Championship earned the “benchmark” label on several fronts as tournament director Nathan Grube received a “President’s Award” from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance during its Gold Key Dinner at the Aqua Turf Club.

“The Travelers Championship is the benchmark for charity giving,” Alliance president Tim Jensen said while presenting the award to Grube.

The award is given to an individual, team or organization that has made a significant and positive impact on the state’s sports landscape. Connecticut’s biggest sporting event certainly covers all of those bases, having raised more than $40 million for more than 750 charities since it began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club, including $16.7 million since Travelers became title sponsor in 2007. It raised a record $2 million last year when Bubba Watson donated $200,000 of his $1,260,000 winnings after capturing the title for the third time, one shy of the record of World Golf Hall of Famer Billy Casper.

The $7.2 million tournament has received numerous awards from the PGA Tour in the past few years, including “Tournament of the Year” for first time in 2017.

“The Tour said, ‘You are now the benchmark for what the Tour wants to be,” Grube said in reference to the organization’s biggest award during his acceptance speech.

For the second consecutive year, the 2018 tournament was honored with the “Player’s Choice” Award that is voted on exclusively by PGA Tour members and is based on players’ experiences with tournament services, hospitality, player and family amenities, community support, attendance, golf course and other attributes.

The second Player’s Choice Award came a year after the event earned a record four awards, including the benchmark prize, “Most Fan Friendly Event” and “Best Tournament Sales.” The tournament has now received 14 PGA Tour awards since 2009, with the others being “Most Fan Friendly Event” (2010, 2012), “Best Title Sponsor Integration” (2009, 2010, 2012), “Best Marketing Program” (2011), “Best Use of Players” (2012), “Best Charity Integration” (2013) and “Best Special Event” (2016, when it hosted the Bruce Edwards Foundation Dinner in memory of the Wethersfield native who caddied for 30 years on the PGA Tour, mostly for Hall of Famer Tom Watson, before he died of ALS in 2004.)

All this has been possible because Travelers, the giant insurance magnet, basically saved the top-end tournament after it lost its title sponsor. The event was set to move to the PGA Tour Champions, where many former tournament winners now play, but it would still have been a letdown after more than 50 years in the big leagues.

But when 84 Lumber Company suddenly ended its title sponsorship, Travelers stepped up to fill the void and finalized a four-year contract with the PGA Tour in only four days.

The 2019 Travelers Championship is scheduled June 20-23 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.

“People said we had had a great run, but we said that’s not where it would end,” said Grube, who became tournament director in 2005. “Now we have something special, and it’s wonderful to be a part of it.”

The money that the tournament has generated has helped pay for the construction of a new $4.5 million, 23-acre, state-of-the-art practice facility at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, $3.5 million in a course enhancement project and $17 million for renovation of the clubhouse, which will increase the facility from 10,000 square feet to 40,000 square and be open for this year’s championship June 20-23. And Travelers emphatically demonstrated its dedication to the tournament in 2014, when it became the first title sponsor to sign a 10-year contract extension with the PGA Tour.

Travelers Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette was unable to attend the awards dinner because he was involved with other company business in Massachusetts. His numerous Travelers duties include helping recruit players to the tournament with Grube, a rarity for a major official of a title sponsor. Bessette and Grube are scheduled to make their final recruiting mission for 2019 this week at the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.

“We’re incredibly honored to be recognized by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance with the 2019 Presidents Award,” Bessette when the award was announced. “The Gold Key Dinner celebrates the finest in Connecticut sports, and to be included among this year’s recipients is a testament to the hard work and dedication from so many people who have supported the tournament.”
Grube added, “It’s a privilege to work with so many people who tirelessly give their time and energy to make the Travelers Championship what it is. From the thousands of volunteers to all of our sponsors, we are humbled to receive this award.”

The Travelers Championship goes above and beyond to assist players, caddies and their families, not only during tournament week, but throughout the FedEx Cup season. One of the major perks for players is a charter flight provided from the U.S. Open, played the week before the Travelers Championship.

The U.S. Open is at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in California this year, but the tournament’s attention to detail has helped land a field that already includes 2018 PGA Tour Player of the Year Brooks Koepka, fellow Top 20 players Watson, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Jason Day, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed, as well at 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishman. When Reed, who won the 2018 Masters, committed last month, it gave the tournament all four reigning major champions. Kopeka repeated in the U.S. Open and then the PGA Championship, while Molinari became the first Italian to win a major championship in the British Open.

Tiger Woods, whose caddie is Newtown native Joe LaCava, ended the Travelers Championship “major championship run” when he rallied to capture the Masters last month for his first major title in 14 years and first in any event since 2008. He now has 81 career titles, one behind 1955 ICO winner Sam Snead, and 15 major wins, three behind Jack Nicklaus.
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Prestigious Gold Key Awards were presented to ESPN founder and former New England Whalers public relations director Bill Rasmussen, who was named among the 40 most influential people in sports history in Sports Illustrated’s 40th anniversary edition in 1994; former Warren Harding High School, Boston College and NBA star John Bagley, who was named to the Hall of Fame and had his No. 54 retired at BC and is now Warren Harding basketball coach and on the Bridgeport Board of Education; Kolbe Cathedral High School basketball coach Chris Smith, the career scoring leader at the University of Connecticut who played in the NBA and Europe; longtime college and NFL coach and Super Bowl champion Chris Palmer, who is now the athletic director at the University of New Haven and a member of the New Haven, Immaculate High School and Southern Connecticut State University Halls of Fame; and St. Thomas More Prep basketball coach Jere Quinn, who has won more than 1,000 games, including five New England Championships and the 2011 National Prep School Championship, and was nominated for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016. He is also a member of the New[BB1] England Basketball Hall of Fame and the Central Connecticut State University Hall of Fame.

The First Tee of Connecticut is one of many in The First Tee network which is reaching young people in all 50 states and select international locations on golf courses, in elementary schools and through other youth-serving organizations.


When The First Tee of Hartford began in 1999, it had junior golf clinics for fewer than 100 youngsters. The 20th anniversary of what is now The First Tee of Connecticut will feature youth development programs for nearly 70,000 kids at locations across the state.

To celebrate its two decades of serving youth throughout Connecticut, The First Tee of Connecticut’s 20th Anniversary Celebration will be at Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich on July 22. There will be other events, and more information can be obtained from director of development Christy Miller at 860-882-1660 or

The organization is also going to conduct spring group lessons, summer camps and team programs, Parent-Child tournaments May 19 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield and Sept. 8 at Fairchild Wheeler GC in Fairfield, free Junior League teams at Keney Park GC and Goodwin Park GC in Hartford thanks to the support of PGA Tour Properties and the TPC Network, qualifying for the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, free playing time on the four-hole Karl Krapek Family Learning Links in Cromwell on Sunday mornings, volunteer opportunities during the Travelers Championship Celebrity Pro-Am, donation opportunities through Birdies For Charity and a playing opportunity through the Eversource PGA Tour Player Experience for Junior Golfers.

If interested in the PGA Junior League, contact TFTCT executive director Mark Moriarty at 860-882-1660 or

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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