HARTFORD, Conn. – Golf is arguably the No. 1 fund-raiser in all of sports.
From a myriad of local and regional charity tournaments to the millions of dollars raised annually on the PGA Tour, golf constantly fills coffers to help tens of thousands of people each year.
In 2019, the Travelers Championship raised a tournament record of more than $2.1 million for 150 charities, increasing the total since the insurance giant became title sponsor in 2007 to almost $20 million. And the total since the tournament began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club has reached more than $40 million.
“I look forward to this event every year because, ultimately, this is what the tournament is all about,” tournament director Nathan Grube said on the day the record take was announced. “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 it to benefit worthy organizations that are making a difference in peoples’ lives.”
This week, the PGA Tour announced its tournaments have surpassed $3 BILLION in all-time charitable giving. The total, which includes a record $204.3 million in 2019 to bring the total to $3.05 billion, includes donations made by tournaments on the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latinomaerica and PGA Tour Series-China.
The announcement came before the Waste Management Phoenix Open practice round at TPC Scottsdale. “The Greatest Show on Grass” is the par 3 16th – one of the most iconic holes in golf with its coliseum-style amphitheater where about 16,000 people can sit, often cheering and jeering tee shots as if they’re at a baseball, basketball or football game.
“It’s truly a pleasure to thank our fans, sponsors, tournaments, players and volunteers for helping us generate over $3 billion for charity and positively impact millions of lives,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. “As remarkable as this milestone is, what really matters are the countless stories like Amy’s that every tournament has. Together, we look forward to continuing to reach – and celebrate – millions more.”
The Travelers Championship has a touching tale thanks largely to its major beneficiary, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford founded by the late actor Paul Newman in 1988. The nonprofit 501(3) organization is named after the gang in Newman’s film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and located on 300 acres, 44 of which are a lake. The land was originally part of a large farm owned by the Harakaly family, and when the farming industry in Connecticut began to decline, the Harakalys built the lake and, after refusing to develop it, sold it to Newman.
The camp’s programs include year-round outreach to hospitals and clinics and ongoing services for children, families and caregivers. The programs serve 20,000 children and family members annually, and all services are free of charge. Each summer the camp offers seven one-week sessions for children aged 7 to 15 diagnosed with cancer, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, metabolic and mitochondrial disorders and other serious illnesses and conditions, plus one session for healthy siblings.
Players in the Travelers Championship have visited the camp, and three-time winner Bubba Watson and wife Angie have toured several times, with part of the facility named in his honor because of large amount of money that he has donated to the tournament that he considers his second home. In 2018, when he won for the third time, one shy of the tournament record of Hall of Famer Billy Casper, Watson gave $200,000 of his $1.26 million winnings to the event so it would reach a then-record $2 million.
“It is such an honor to be part of this tournament; they’ve always made me feel like family,” said Watson, whose first of 12 PGA Tour wins came in the 2010 Travelers Championship only four months before his father Gerry died of throat cancer. “Every year they’re making improvements, making the tournament better, growing the charitable donations, doing more for the families, caddies and fans. I can’t say enough about how impressive this tournament is and how much they impact the community by giving back.”
Grube and Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer Andy Bessette expressed thanks.
“Bubba’s generous donation is an example of how he has embraced our tournament and our region,” Grube said. “We are extremely grateful to Bubba and everyone who has supported our mission to help nonprofit organizations like The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.”
Bessette said: “Bubba is a tremendous person with a huge heart, and this unbelievable gesture is a demonstration of how much he cares about others. On behalf of everyone at Travelers, I want to thank him and his family for their ongoing support of our goal of raising more money for charity.”
That donation wasn’t Watson’s only one of note in Connecticut. In 2016, he gave $100,000 in support of the Bruce Edwards Foundation Benefit Dinner that was held after the second round of the tournament. Edwards, a Wethersfield native, caddied on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions for 30 years, mostly for Hall of Famer Tom Watson, before dying of ALS in 2004 at 49. Bubba and Tom Watson, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, CBS announcer Jim Nantz, biographer and master of ceremony John Feinstein and dozens of players and caddies were among the more than 1,000 people who attended the event that raised more than $1 million for ALS research in memory of Edwards, inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame and recipient of the Golf Writers Association Ben Hogan Award for Courage in 2004. The Foundation has raised more than $10 million since being created in 2005.
The PGA Tour and its more than 100 tournaments across all tours achieved the $3 billion mark only six years after surpassing $2 billion in 2014. The tour reached $1 billion in 2005, and record take this year bests the previous record of $190 in 2018. The first charitable donation of $10,000 was at the 1938 Palm Beach Invitational, and money now raised impact more than 3,000 nonprofits each year, including The First Tee, which has introduced more than 15 million young people to its character-building programs throughout the game of golf. The First Tee of Connecticut, which began as The First Tee of Hartford in 1999, serves about 70,000 youngsters.
The 2020 Travelers Championship – with a156-man field in the $7.4 million tournament with a $1.332 million first prize in the biggest sporting event in Connecticut – is off to a terrific start and has a special bonus as officials shoot for more record profits June 25-28 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. Chez Reavie, who ended an 11-year victory drought last year, will defend his title, and early commitments have come from Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, who are No. 2 and No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy was named PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers in 2019 after winning the Tour Championship and FedExCup race, while Thomas won five times, including the PGA Championship, in 2017 and was the FedExCup champion in 2018. McIlroy and Thomas have both been ranked No. 1 in the world.