SBD/June 24, 2013/Events and Attractions

Travelers Wants To Keep Current PGA Tour Date, Plans To Extend Title Sponsorship

Travelers hopes to keep the event scheduled the week after the U.S. Open
Travelers Chair & CEO Jay Fishman said that there is "no question" the company will "extend its contract to be the title sponsor" for the PGA Tour event at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut, according to Tom Yantz of the HARTFORD COURANT. The company's current contract with the Tour "expires after the 2014 tournament," and the deadline to "extend the contract is Sept. 30." Fishman said that Travelers is "very pleased to have the tournament date the week after the U.S. Open." Part of its discussions with the Tour is to "retain its date" in '16 because golf will be played in the '16 Rio de Janeiro Games. Fishman said the tournament "has met and exceeded our every expectation as a company." But he "has a few suggestions" to improve the tournament experience. The clubhouse at TPC River Highlands "has a locker room that's one of the more cramped ones on the tour." The club is owned by the PGA Tour, so in the "course of discussions with the tour, Travelers has made suggestions to improve the clubhouse" (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/23). Travelers Championship Tournament Dir Nathan Grube said that attendance at this year's event "spiked between" 15-20% over last year, which he had "estimated to be about 250,000." Tournament officials said that the "main parking lots were filled to capacity Friday, Saturday and Sunday and had to be closed" (CTPOST.com, 6/24).

BRINGING STABILITY: In Boston, Michael Whitmer noted the tournament has "embraced its annual spot one week after the US Open," and has "brought growth and stability to what had been an uncertain situation." Travelers Exec VP & Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette said, "We entertain a couple thousand people during tournament week, our agents, our brokers, our customers. It’s brand recognition, too, the red floating umbrella in the pond, the broadcasts going around the world. It’s great for our brand.” Whitmer noted most tournaments "evolve with sponsor changes, but the Travelers’ plight was compounded in 2006 by having no date to play." Travelers "pounced on the opportunity" to sponsor the event, "increasing the purse that first year" from $4.4M to $6M. Grube said, "Andy made a commitment to coming out and getting to know the guys, so we would go on the road at least three or four times a year in those first few years. Andy carried a notebook around and he asked everybody what we can do to make it better. The Travelers team decided that we’re going to take this tour event and we’re going to do something that’s not being done somewhere else in the country. You can have all the fun activities, but if the players don’t come, if the players don’t like it, it’s not going to work.” Golfer Hunter Mahan said, "Travelers has worked hard to make it better. ... It's had a renewal since Travelers took over. It's been fun to see it grow and be a part of that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/23).

FINDING AN IDENTITY: In N.Y., Pat Pickens noted the Travelers Championship -- formerly known as the Insurance City Open, the Greater Hartford Open and the Buick Championship -- had "struggled with sponsorship and finding a home on the tour calendar." When Travelers became the title sponsor, the event "became a fixture the week after the Open." Grube: “Having an identity is something important. The week after the Open is our week" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/23). Grube said, "We make sure our event is as comfortable and relaxing for the players as possible. I think about Hilton Head after the Masters. We know the guys are coming off a grueling test of golf. They love that test, but they wouldn't want to play like that every week. A lot of it is getting back to what they consider 'normal.' We embrace that and we go after the wives and the caddies and their whole team and say, 'Look, when you get here, you're going to be taken care of.'" He added, "Back in 2006 when Travelers was looking at sponsoring this event, the players said, 'Wow, the week after the Open. It would be great if you could help us out with transportation.' The charter came from that idea. Let's charter a plane and every year the guys can count on it. We've been able to get the fields that we have because we're out there building relationships with these guys" (GOLF.com, 6/21).

HELPING HANDS: GOLFCHANNEL.com's Rex Hoggard noted Travelers Championship officials after last December's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School "reached out to the community and asked what they could do to help." The tournament has "pledged to indefinitely fund a First Tee program in Newtown and summer camps beginning this summer." Grube said, “We are going to stay in touch with them for years and years and years. We want to be a part of the recovery" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 6/21).
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