CROMWELL, Conn. — It’s not yet official, but the Travelers Championship last month set a new tournament record for money raised for charity despite heavy rain that caused some logistical problems and several marquee players failing to make the cut.
“We did indeed surpass $2 million this year,” tournament director Nathan Grube proudly said. “We are still finalizing the exact amount, but we will be more than last year regarding our generated number for charity.”
The 2018 Travelers Championship raised a record $2 million thanks to Bubba Watson donating $200,000 of his $1,260,000 winnings to the tournament.
“I think $2 million looks a lot better than $1.8 million,” a smiling Watson told tournament officials after the trophy ceremony honoring his third victory, one shy of Hall of Famer Billy Casper’s tournament-record four titles. Watson’s special donation led to the dedication of a special area in his honor at the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, the tournament’s chief beneficiary.
Grube had an idea there might be another record amount generated 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, Brooks 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 in 2007.
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 were made 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 Connecticut’s biggest sporting event. And Watson and weary No. 1-ranked 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.
This year, Chez 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 Keegan 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, the first since 2008 in his rookie season.
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.
“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. “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?’ ”
In keeping with Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer Andy 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 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.”
With that in mind, Bessette, Grube and Co. have already begun to look toward the 2020 tournament June 25-28, again after the U.S. Open, which will be played at the Winged Foot Golf Club West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
“We look at everything, and we’ve already turned the page and begun preparations for the 2020 Travelers Championship,” Bessette said. “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.”