Nathan Grube, the tournament director of the Travelers Championship, used to worry about the years when the U.S. Open took place on the West Coast.
Many of the world’s top golfers would make a decision to take a break the week following the major or head to Europe to begin preparing for the Open Championship, rather than travel across the country to play at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut.
But this year, in response to LIV Golf, the Travelers was elevated to one of 17 so-called “designated” PGA Tour events, with a much bigger purse and a near mandate for top golfers to play, giving the tournament the guarantee of a strong field.
“I can tell you with certain confidence that I probably wouldn’t have been here even though I love the tournament so much,” Masters champion Jon Rahm said Tuesday. ”With that said, they’ve done a great job making players comfortable. Having a charter flight always makes it a lot easier, maybe not for the best two or three players in the world, but for other people that are high quality players as well that come and compete in this event.”
This week’s tournament field includes the top eight golfers in the world rankings and 38 of the top 50.
Grube and his team have gotten a reputation of pampering golfers in an effort to get them to Connecticut, including running those free charter flights for players from the Open.
Once in the state, there are perks including free laundry and hair cuts for caddies, day care on site, and day trips for spouses and children to amusement parks. This year, the tournament added a coffee and ice cream bar and lounge on the driving range.
Grube said it was in part because of its player-friendly reputation that the Travelers was chosen last fall to be among the first events to win elevated status.
“We’ve been auditioning for this for 16 years,” Grube said, a reference to the length of time Travelers has been the event’s title sponsor. “And when it came time to go … We showed up.”
The designated status means the total purse has increased from $8.3 to $20 million, with the winner taking home $3.6 million rather than the just under $1. 5 million Xander Schauffele took home last June.
The top PGA Tour players are required to play in 16 of the 17 designated events.
“It almost feels like we’re at the playoffs every time we’re at these elevated events,” Schauffele said during the Traveler’s media day news conference last month. ”Everybody’s showing up, ready to go, the best players in the world showing up every week.”
Thirteen of the 17 designated tournaments, including the four majors, have that status in perpetuity. The other four events, such as the Travelers, were originally expected to rotate from year to year.
Andy Bessette, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Travelers, said the Connecticut tournament has been in talks to keep its designated status for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve been working on the agreement to keep us elevated for 24, 25, 26, and I think we’re getting close,” he said Tuesday. ”But I think with everything going on in the world of golf these days, we’ve got to be a little more careful to make sure we understand what it’s going to look like. So it’s a little hard right now because the definitive agreement is going to be done by the end of the year. And once that’s done, then we have to see how it’s going to operate.”
One of the possibilities is that the Travelers could become an event that features only the top 70 or so golfers in the world, with no cut, Bessette said.
But this tournament has become known for giving younger golfers their first shot at playing a PGA Tour event. U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark made his debut in Connecticut in 2017 and 17 golfers have earned their first PGA Tour win at the Travelers, including Stewart Cink (1997) and Bubba Watson (2010).
Patrick Cantlay, who made his first big mark by shooting a 60 on this course while still an amateur in 2011, said he’s not worried about young golfers losing an opportunity.
“I think potentially it could lose something, but I think it gains something too, ” he said. “I think there’s real power to having all the stars play an event and have them here for all four days. I don’t think there’ll be any difference on Tour. If you’re good enough to shoot the scores, you’re going to find your way out here sooner rather than later.”
Photo: A group plays the 17th hole during the Travelers Championship golf tournament Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, in Cromwell, Conn. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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