Will LIV Golf diminish PGA Tour events like the Travelers Championship?


CROMWELL, Conn. — The Travelers Championship in central Connecticut, played on a golf course next to cornfields, celebrates its 70th anniversary this week, making it one of the oldest PGA Tour events held in continued. Over the decades, the tournament has changed name and location, but in a small state with no professional franchise in any of the four major North American sports (the NHL’s Hartford Whalers left 25 years ago) , the Travelers have been a treasured mainstay in Connecticut. sports calendar.

He’s also been invaluable to the PGA Tour, reliably drawing some of the biggest crowds of the Tour’s season. He is beloved by golfers because of his handcrafted approach which provides players’ wives and children with personal attention, and which in turn has produced a host of marquee winners like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson.

The 1995 winner was Greg Norman, then the No. 1 male golfer in the world. Norman is the general manager of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, which has upended the PGA Tour by attracting top golfers with guaranteed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In the space of two months, the upstart Tour has threatened the primacy of the PGA Tour and, potentially, the Tour’s legacy events like the Travelers – which, in addition to entertaining golf fans in southern New England, have attracted sponsorships that led to over $46 million in donations to 800 charities.

The main beneficiary for most years has been a camp in northern Connecticut that helps about 20,000 seriously ill children and their families each year and was founded by state resident actor Paul Newman.

The intense confrontation between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has centered on garish monetary offers to already wealthy golfers – as well as a multitude of geopolitical underpinnings – but invisible in the struggle are other connected entities, like Connecticut’s prized golf tournament.

Could LIV Golf, which has eight events scheduled this year, including five in the United States, possibly upend or diminish the Travelers Championship and the more than 30 other PGA Tour events like it across the country? Already, Mickelson and Johnson, who were recently banned from the tour along with all the other LIV Golf defectors, are absent from the course this week. Mickelson, 52, probably wouldn’t have played, but Johnson, the 2020 champion, had enthusiastically promised in February to return to Connecticut.

Standing on a hill in the fan gallery overlooking the 18th hole during the Travelers’ first round on Thursday, Jay Hibbard of Woodstock, Connecticut, said Johnson missed, “but not that much.”

“Dustin took the money and made a choice, but I’m not coming here to endorse any particular golfer,” Hibbard, 39, said. “Most golf fans come for the atmosphere and to see great golfers up close. And there are enough other major champions here this week.

Standing nearby, Mike Stanley of Plainville, Conn., said, “It’s kind of depressing to see things fall apart because I think it’s natural to want all the best players to play together. But there are still a bunch of top guys – I was following Rory McIlroy today, then Scottie Scheffler.

Scheffler and McIlroy are first and second in the men’s world rankings and were joined in the Voyagers field by four other top 15 golfers. On the other hand, no player engaged in the LIV Golf tour is ranked in the world top 15.

In the players’ locker room here this week, Sahith Theegala, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie, said players his age felt the same way: their loyalty is to the PGA Tour.

“I come from a modest upbringing,” Theegala said, “and I feel like the value of money has kind of been lost. It just seems like a million dollars, a lot of guys win on this tour, gets dumped like it’s nothing, right?”

When asked if he was worried about the future of PGA Tour events like the Travellers, Theegala shook his head.

“There is a history and a legacy of this tour that young people have dreamed of being a part of,” Theegala said. “A new tour has no status; you are literally playing for money.

He added: “You can’t buy clarity of mind and play with a clear conscience.”

Joanna Aversa of Waterbury, Connecticut, who was competing in her first Voyageurs, wondered if LIV Golf’s entry into the men’s golf market might broaden the appeal of the sport.

“In the past, the golf community has been portrayed as very elitist,” she said. “Maybe with some golfers coming out for these big deals, we could have a whole new wave of fans who feel more comfortable because they don’t have to know all the best people and things like They can just come and play golf and have fun.

Financially, Travelers officials said the event was on good footing. Nathan Grube, the tournament director, said ticket sales for this year’s event surpassed the 2019 tournament, which was the last time travelers weren’t restricted by the pandemic. Corporate hospitality tents are sold out. With all net proceeds going to charity, the total donation, which was more than $2.2 million last year, is expected to increase.

“It’s a good place to be right now,” Grube said.

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for Sick Children that Newman founded in 1988 opened this year on the same day as the first Travelers tour. The organization has hospital outreach programs that bring the summer camp experience to children’s bedsides in dozens of locations across New England and mid-Atlantic states. All programs, which are dedicated to helping children with cancer and other illnesses such as sickle cell disease and blood and metabolic disorders, are offered free of charge.

“Being the primary beneficiary of the Travelers Championship has allowed us to expand our reach,” camp communications manager Ryan Thompson said Friday. “It’s so much more than a golf tournament; it is a source of community pride for all that it brings.

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