May 7, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:09 pm

Travelers tourney looks for success beyond golf

The Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube discusses some of the eventís non-golf functions during the tournamentís media day on May 1 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.

The Travelers Championship isn't all about golf.

At least, it's trying not to be.

The organizers of the 60-year-old professional golf tournament in Cromwell have larger aspirations than the more than $1 million generated from the event annually for charity. They hope for an even bigger event that has a larger economic impact and generates even more for New England nonprofits.

"We try very, very hard to make this more than a golf tournament," said Nathan Grube, The Travelers Championship tournament director. "The more events that we have, the more economic impact that we have."

That means in addition to the four-day PGA tournament culminating on June 24, the organizers hosts events such as the BlumShapiro 5K run on June 9, Farmington Bank family day on June 19, and the various concerts following daily tournament play, including KC & The Sunshine Band on June 23.

When all is said and done, the proceeds from The Travelers Championship are donated to several charities, most notably the Hole in the Wall Camp in Ashford. For each of the past three years, the tournament set record levels of donations, about $1.1 million annually.

Based on strong support from sponsors this year, the tournament is tracking above its 2011 level and hopes to donate another record amount this year, Grube said.

"There's a lot of momentum for what we are doing," Grube said.

That goal could be greatly influenced by several factors leading up to and during the tournament, particularly the weather. One result is predictable: the response from corporate sponsors has been stronger this year than last.

The tournament's sponsors are increasing the size of their donations. This year, Hartford's St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center extended its 22-year relationship with the Travelers Championship by signing a new five-year sponsorship deal.

"The rewards of The Travelers Championship to Connecticut are many," said Christopher Dadlez, St. Francis' chief executive officer. "It really promotes the health and well-being of our state."

The Travelers also is benefitting from new sponsors. Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank came on as a tournament sponsor for the first time this year.

"The companies want to be part of what we are doing," said Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Hartford insurer Travelers, the event title sponsor. "All businesses — if they look at this — will see this and see the business opportunity."

Helping the sales and sponsorship cause this year was 2010 Travelers tournament champion Bubba Watson winning The Masters, one of the tour's major events, this year. Watson is committed to playing The Travelers Championship again this year.

The week after Watson won The Masters, ticket sales for The Travelers Championship doubled, Grube said. In addition, more corporate sponsors increased the size of their commitment, as the demand for the tournament rose.

"Everybody wants to talk about Bubba," Bessette said.

The Travelers Championship has a $27 million economic impact on the state of Connecticut, according to the tournament's study. And that impact will grow as the tournament grows, Grube said.

Both the MetroHartford Alliance and the state government have committed to having a presence on the corporate sponsorship row this year. Their commitment will not only benefit Connecticut by using the tournament to market the state, but it will in turn benefit the tournament itself and where it hopes to grow in the future, Grube said.

"We benefit from any marketing of the region," Grube said. "When they bring their people here to the tournament, it benefits all of us."

In its 60-year history, the tournament has donated $30 million to its various charities. The event launched in 1952 at the Insurance City Open and went through several iterations over the decades — including as the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open — before Travelers took over title sponsorship from Buick in 2006.

"The history is so important to us here," Bessette said. "What it has done for the community and the rest of Connecticut is amazing."

Previous champions of the tournament include Watson, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, who counted it as his first PGA Tour victory.

"It is humbling when you look at the names on the trophy," said Fredrik Jacobson, who recorded his first PGA Tour victory at the 2011 Travelers. "I didn't realize the tournament had been around that long."


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