CSGA (May 13, 2020) In Connecticut and much of New England, June’s Travelers Championship signals the annual kickoff of the golf season.
That week each year the best golfers in the world descend upon TPC River Highlands in Cromwell to compete in front of galleries of 250,000 or more. Sunday’s massive crowd, packed into the natural amphitheater surrounding the 18th green, produces some of the loudest roars on the PGA Tour. Remember when Jordan Spieth holed out from the greenside bunker to win the 2017 championship in a playoff over Daniel Berger? Our ears still ring.
This year’s Travelers promises to reverberate in a very different way. The tournament will signal a hope-filled return to competitive golf—and sports—in New England, during a season until now silenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Travelers, which will be only the third event played on Tour this year, will for the first time be conducted without fans.
Scheduled for June 25-28 and to be broadcast on Golf Channel and CBS, 2020’s TV-only Travelers represents a monumental challenge to the championship team working to revamp the event safely.
The CSGA’s Sam Dostaler got a chance to talk with Tournament Director Nathan Grube about how those preparations are progressing.
Planning the 2020 Travelers, says Grube, has been like planning multiple championships at the same time. “There was this strange time where we were planning about four different versions of the Travelers Championship,” explained Grube. “When you saw the Players Championship get canceled every tournament after it started going, 'Oh my gosh what if?' And so we started working backwards from, ‘what if we are canceled’, to a limited build, no build, fans, no fans, all these different scenarios, and it was factoring into what would be able to do in the timeline.”
The plan forward became more defined on April 16th when the PGA Tour announced their revamped schedule, including the Travelers. Since then it has been full steam ahead for Grube and the team as they created a completely new tournament in two and a half months—a process that typically takes 15 months. Despite the questions and the unknowing, Grube is excited about the return of competition, albeit without galleries.
“You have to be able to look at this year in this bubble that we are in and say, man, we are going to actually be able to pull this off in a safe way, in a way that is going to be one of the strongest fields we have ever had, and in a way that can show the world that Connecticut can be a part of this message that we can get back to some sort of normal in a very careful way.”
The Tour detailed in an internal memo this week how much care will be taken. Among other things, “Players, caddies and various tournament officials and employees will be required to fill out health questionnaires and will be sent pre-travel screening tests. They also will be required to take nasal swab/saliva tests upon arrival, likely at a designated hotel, followed by daily questionnaires and screenings.”
The Travelers’ television audience will watch one of the strongest fields in the tournament’s 68-year history. Besides Defending Champion Chez Reavie, the field includes major winners Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas, as well as stars such as Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay. A special fan favorite is also back: Three-time Travelers Champion Bubba Watson, who won last in 2018. “Bubba has become synonymous with our tournament through the success he’s had on the golf course and his great generosity off it,” says Grube. “Many of the best moments in Travelers Championship history involve Bubba and his family, and we are glad to have him back in 2020.”
The tournament’s charitable contribution remains a priority. Since its inception, the Travelers Championship has delivered $28 million to charity. “Charity is really one of the pillars, so we said okay, we are going to have to rethink our model,” says Grube. “Last year it was about $2.1 million, and so when you look at that you think okay how are you going to generate money for charity with a different business model? And we got extremely creative and sat down with our sponsors and said here is the situation. We don't have the same inventory, we don't have the same business model, but we still want to have an impact on charity. It has been really cool to see how many of our sponsors still say that they want to make a donation to the tournament charities even though we aren't getting anything out of it….So I think we will still have a really good impact for our charities."