When Travelers agreed last year to become the title sponsor of Connecticut’s PGA Tour stop, tournament officials bragged the event would not only be saved, but would be built into one of the tour’s premier events.
There were bulldozers and backhoes in Cromwell Monday to back up the bragging.
Construction has started on a $5 million, 22-acre state-of-the-art practice center at the TPC at River Highlands. It is expected to be ready in time for the 2008 Travelers Championship. It will include a 360-yard driving range with 110,000 square-feet of tees, a short practice course, 11,000-square-foot putting green, and a 13,000-square-foot chipping area.
Northeast Utilities donated more than 100 acres of land for the project.
Defending champ J.J. Henry said lack of that kind of practice center has been the “missing link” for tournament officials trying to sell Cromwell to the big names on the golf tour.
“A first class practice facility with a chipping area, especially around this golf course with a lot of run-offs and falloffs and little chip shots that you tend to hit, there’s really nowhere to work on it,” said Henry, who was back at the course this week to promote next month’s tournament. “I think having this facility out here is going to be a great asset that the players are going to enjoy using.”
When its not being used by the players, the facility will serve as a learning center for the state’s First Tee program, which is designed to introduce children to golf.
The youngsters will have their own tees at the driving range, access to the other practice facilities, and a building with computers, classrooms and a library devoted to teaching them golf and life skills, said Ted May, a tournament official and member of the First Tee board.
“This will help build the future fan base for the tournament as well,” May said.
The tournament also has increased its purse by over $1 million to $6 million. The winner will walk away June 24 with a check for $1.08 million, up $300,000 from a year ago.
“Travelers has been extremely aggressive in saying, ‘What do we have to do to get the top names back here?’ and then going out and doing those things,” said Nathan Grube, the tournament’s director.
The June 21-24 tournament, played the week after the U.S. Open this year, is part of the new FedExCup championship, which will award $10 million to the golfer with the most points at the end of the season.
On Monday, three more top-15 players, including Vijay Singh, committed to playing in this year’s Travelers Championship. Padraig Harrington and Trevor Immelman also were added to the field, which already had landed commitments from two-time Travelers champ Phil Mickelson, and Masters champion Zach Johnson.
Singh, ranked second on the PGA money list and in the FedExCup points chase, has 31 tour victories, including three majors. He hasn’t played in Cromwell since 2002.
Tiger Woods has never played in the event, and has not committed to do so this year. He and his wife are expecting their first child this summer, and his schedule will revolve around that event, said Henry, a friend who played with Woods on last summer’s Ryder Cup team.
“I’ve seen differences out here today that going forward I hope can attract the likes of say a Tiger or ongoing forward the fact that this is going to be a tournament that’s going to be an upper echelon event, and I think the players are excited about it,” Henry said.
On the Net: http://www.travelerschampionship.com/
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