CROMWELL — The first PGA Tour stop in Connecticut was 60 years ago with the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club.
Now called the Travelers Championship, it has gone through some name and sponsor changes through the years.
But for many years its status as the most popular single sporting event in Connecticut has not changed. About 240,000 fans watched the tournament at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell last year. The competition, won by Freddie Jacobson, also was seen around the world on CBS.
Since 1952 when President Harry Truman was in office and gasoline was 20 cents a gallon, familiar golf names and greats such as Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have won trophies.
From the tournament's humble start at Wethersfield CC in 1952 when the total purse was $15,000, to the $6 million showcase at TPC River Highlands, here are 60 distinctive events to remember before the tournament tees off Thursday:
01 Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce President Phil Sehl and vice president Ed May asked Rockledge CC-West Hartford owner Mike Sherman if his course would be the site of the first PGA tournament in Connecticut. But Sherman told The Courant: "We'd be happy to have it, but really, the only place it should be is at the `Club of Champions.' '' That was Wethersfield CC.
02 Travelers, Aetna Life Affiliated, Hartford Accident and Indemnity, Aetna Insurance Group, Hartford Fire, The National of Hartford, Phoenix-Connecticut Group and Hartford County Mutual Fire contributed a total of $7,500 in 1952 to the Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce for a chief fundraiser. It would be called the Insurance City Open
03 Attendance the first tournament day, Aug. 29, 1952, was estimated at 4,000. Attendance for the entire tournament was 20,000, despite three days of heavy rain.
04 Ted Kroll won the first title with a score of 273.
05 Tommy Bolt had 11 birdies and nine-hole scores of 30-30 for his tournament and Wethersfield CC record 60 in the second round in '54.
06 Bolt defeated Earl Stewart in the only 18-hole playoff in tournament history (67-70) in '54.
07 Amateur Bill Whedon from the CC of Farmington scored holes-in-one on the fifth and ninth in the first round in '55. He's the only amateur to record two holes-in-one in one round in PGA Tour history.
08 Sam Snead recorded the largest margin of victory (seven strokes) in '55.
09 Palmer won his first professional title in the U.S. in the '56 ICO (his first title was the Canadian Open in '55).
10 Before all of the technologically advanced drivers and golf balls, Jack Nicklaus displayed his power by driving the 404-yard par-4 fourth at Wethersfield CC in '63.
11 The next year Wethersfield CC's Jimmy Grant tied for second – the highest finish by an amateur in tournament history. He and Al Besselnk were one shot shy of Ken Venturi.
12 In '67, the tournament became known as the Greater Hartford Open.
13 Charlie Sifford won his first tour victory in '67. The performance was memorable, as he was the second African American to win on tour. The first was Pete Brown in the '64 Waco Open.
14 Billy Casper set the tournament record with four victories, all in a 10-year span: '63, '65, '68 and '73.
15 Trevino, who loved Wethersfield CC, beat Lee Elder in a playoff in '72 to take home the $25,000 first-place check.
16 Sammy Davis Jr. was brought on board in '73 when the tournament named changed to the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open.
17 Davis' influence helped bring celebrities to the Wednesday pro-am. They included Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason.
18 The Greater Hartford Jaycees signed a 14-year lease with the Pierson family, which owned Edgewood Golf Club in Cromwell, in '82.
19 The '83 tournament, "The Last Blast," was the final year for the event at Wethersfield CC. The tournament needed a more challenging course for the players and more land for larger crowds, parking lots and corporate inclusion.
20 Ted May was tournament chairman for the last tournament at Wethersfield CC. His dad, Ed, and Harry Keefe were co-chairmen of the first ICO.
21 In '84 Edgewood GC was turned into TPC Connecticut.
22 Peter Jacobson won the first tournament there on the 6,786-yard, par-71 course with a 271.
23 Canon USA Inc. became the title sponsor in '85. That year the tournament was named the Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open.
24 Two hours ahead of the leaders on the opposite nine in '85, Phil Blackmar hit Associated Press photographer Bob Child in the head with an 8-iron shot on his final hole of regulation, the par-5 ninth. The ball stopped 30 feet from the cup instead of going down a hill behind the green. Blackmar chipped up and saved par. Child needed 12 stitches to close a 2-inch cut before returning to photograph the playoff, which Blackmar won against Jodie Mudd and Dan Pohl.
25 Sammy Davis Jr.'s 16-year run with the GHO ended in '88.
26 The following year the tournament was named Canon Greater Hartford Open.
27 Paul Azinger, the '87 champion, holed a 45-foot chip shot for birdie at 18 to win in '89.
28 In '90, the 558-yard par-5 10th was made into a 303-yard par 4 hole during course construction. The course was 6,531 yards, and par was 70.
29 Eleven holes were built during a course redesign in '91. The 6,820-yard, par 70 course was renamed TPC River Highlands.
30 A tournament record crowd of 322,000 watched the '94 tournament, won by David Frost.
31 A single day tournament record crowd of 100,000 saw the final rounds in '94 and '97.
32 Norman, who won in '95, disqualified himself the following year after the second round. He did so because he knew he had used a non-conforming ball in the second round (the ball's marking wasn't on the approved ball list).
33 Casey Martin, who has a rare degenerative circulatory condition that affects his right leg, was the first player to ride in a cart in a regular tour event in '98.
34 In 2000, Notah Begay III made a 22-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to be the first tournament champion to win on the final shot of regulation.
35 Many past champions gathered before the 50th tournament in '01. They included Palmer, Snead, Bolt, Casper, Sifford, Bob Goalby and Trevino.
36 Tennis great Martina Hingas, who at the time was Sergio Garcia's girlfriend, attended the '02 tournament to watch Sergio.
37 Mickelson shot a final-round 64 in '02 to become the fourth multiple winner in tournament history.
38 Canon bowed out as tournament sponsor after '02. The tournament used a bridge plan of sponsors in '03 to save the tournament. Its name was the Greater Hartford Open.
39 Jacobson, 49, was the fifth multiple winner in '03 and the oldest winner in tournament history.
40 Buick signed on as title sponsor in '03.
41 Suzy Whaley, the Blue Fox Run GC pro who won the Connecticut Section PGA championship in '02, earned a tournament spot in '03. She was the first women to qualify for a tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the '45 Tucson Open.
42 Bruce Edwards, a native of Wethersfield, was the longtime caddie for Tom Watson, whom he caddied for at three GHOs. In '03, Edwards was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. That year the Greater Hartford Jaycees presented a four-year, $12,000 scholarship in Edwards' honor during the opening ceremonies. He added another $1,000. He died from complications of the disease in April 2004.
43 Brad Faxon's 61 in '05 was the lowest final round by a champion.
44 In '06, Maggie Hardy Magerko, president of 84 Lumber, decided to pull the company out of sponsorship for the tournament in Pennsylvania. This provided a slot for Cromwell in the FedEx Tour schedule the following year.
45 St. Paul Travelers signed a four-year commitment in April '06 to be the primary sponsor of the Travelers Championship. The purse increased from $4.4 million in the final year of the Buick Championship to $6 million for the first Travelers Championship the next year.
46 J.J. Henry of Fairfield became the only Connecticut native to win the tournament in '06.
47 Hunter Mahan defeated Jay Williamson, a Trinity College grad, with a birdie on the first playoff hole to win the '07 championship.
48 A 23-acre practice facility opened at the north end of the course in '08.
49 In February '09, Travelers announced it would pick up its contract option to be the title sponsor of the tournament for '11 and '12 and extend it through '14.
50 Stewart Cink, who won in 1997, became the sixth multiple winner in 2008.
51 Kenny Perry's 258 in '09 set the 72-hole record.
52 Bubba Watson made a birdie putt on the second playoff hole, the par-3 16th, and embraced his wife, Angie, in an emotional scene on the green after winning his first tour event in '10.
53 Patrick Cantlay's 60 in the second round in '11 was the lowest amateur round in tour history.
54 Some celebrities who played in pro-ams: Ray Allen, Geno Auriemma, Bill Belichick, Chris Berman, Bonnie Blair, Jim Calhoun, Roger Clemens, Bob Cousy, Kevin Dineen, Boomer Esiason, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk. Julius Erving. Whitey Ford, Gleason, Vince Gill, Hope, Gordie Howe, Dan Jansen, K.C. Jones, Sandy Koufax, Brian Leetch, Ivan Lendl, Lewis, Rebecca Lobo, George Lopez, Maurice Lucas, John Hannah, Michael Jordan, Brian Leetch, Joe Morgan, Willie Mosconi, Bill Murray, Leslie Nielsen, John O'Hurley, Joe Pesci, Boog Powell, Dan Reeves, Jim Rice, Jen Rizzotti, Jackie Robinson, Rooney, Ray Romano, Roger Staubach, Lawrence Taylor and Joe Theismann.
55 Thirty three holes-in-one have been recorded. Whedon and Glen Day each recorded two, with Day acing the 11th in round two in '94 and the 16th in round three that same year.
56 There's a plaque on the cart path at 18 at TPC River Highlands to honor the longest drive in tournament history. Watson hit a 396-yard drive on the 72nd hole in 2010.
57 Faxon holds the tournament record with 27 appearances.
58 The tournament is tied for third place with the HP Bryon Nelson Championship for most playoffs (20) on tour. The U.S. Open (33) and Shell Houston Open (21) rank Nos. 1 and 2.
59 Freddie Jacobson carded only one bogey in winning his first tour event last year.
60 Mahan is the all-time money leader in the tournament with $2,313, 758.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun