The photos in the gallery above are just an overview, but I think they capture the lighthearted vibe that was the 2009 Travelers Championship. Obviously I'm biased, but it's my favorite PGA event.
The way this tournament is put together and presented makes it an ideal event for introducing golf to a whole new swath of the population. I met numerous spectators who'd never played golf, or even watched a televised tournament. The only golfer most could name was Tiger Woods. Yet they had come... with friends or family members, or through a work invitation...and they were enjoying it.
I spent some time with a group of non-golfing wives and daughters whose men folk had gone off in pursuit of Vijay or Sergio, leaving them to take the sun and watch players approach the challenging 17th green. The hole is a beauty; a 420-yard par-4, and one of three (15 and 16 are the others) built around a large pond. 17 is ultra special though, because of the way it doglegs right... around the pond... putting water into play on both the drive and the approach shot. When I played this hole a couple of months ago I lost two balls and ended up with a...never mind...on my scorecard.
Anyway, as pairings approached, I "presented" the various golfers to my newfound entourage of non-golfing friends. I told the backstories and pointed out idiosyncrasies in swings and personal style. For example, I told them about Ryan Moore's independent, logo-shunning spirit (thank you Stephanie Wei), then expounded on Anthony Kim's brilliant Ryder Cup performance and predilection for pimped-out belt buckles. As Boo Weekley approached, I told the gathered girls how popular he was, and how he had won so many hearts (and offended a few Europeans) with his spirited play at the Ryder Cup, so they were quite surprised to hear the loud chorus of Boos that greeted hims as he went by. "There must be a lot of Europeans in the crowd," one gal mused. I quickly explained the Boo/Booing connection. Everyone laughed. Then one young spectator asked her mom if they could "go follow Ryan Moore... because he's really, you know, hot."
The thing is, if you're a golf blogger or a golf blog reader, you're considered a hardcore fan...like me. Spending time at the Travelers Championship - and talking to spectators there - made me realize that we're in a great position to "promote" the fascinating, amazingly talented players who aren't Tiger Woods. Casual golf fans often don't bother to watch tournaments when Sir Eldrick is absent. Not to mention the non-golfers who don't watch golf, period. I feel that if they were made more aware of who the players are... and what they're all about, it would go a long way towards growing the sport's fan base. And I'm not the only one who believes this. Richard Smith wrote a perceptive and elegant piece about it yesterday in his A Lesson Learned column for PGA.com.
The Travelers Championship, like so many golf events, is above all, about charity. 100 percent of net proceeds from this event go to Connecticut charities, primarily The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which serves children suffering from serious diseases, and the Greater Hartford Jaycees Foundation, a leadership development and community service organization. Notably, on the final day of the 2009 tournament, the Travelers Foundation announced an additional gift that brings the total charitable contribution to $1,080,000.
So there you have it, my reflections on the 2009 Travelers Championship. And as you can imagine, I'm already looking forward to 2010.