Travelin’ to the Travelers Championship
What happens when four friends take a road trip to see one of the most popular PGA tournaments of the year? Turns out; a whole lot.
On Thursday, June 19, three of my golfing buddies - Rick, Dustin and Dan, joined me on a golfing adventure to The Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut. Formerly known as the Greater Hartford Open, this PGA tournament featured some of the world's top golfers on one of the most beautiful courses in New England. It was the first PGA tournament experience for all of us, and this fact would influence some of the more memorable stories from our three-day excursion.
On Thursday we set out fairly early in the morning with the goal of stopping in Portland to play nine holes at the Riverside South Course. The weather was beautiful - sunny and '70's with a breeze. The course, though not very long, was fairly tight and featured undulating terrain and some blind tee shots, so it was no cake walk but was a great start to a golfing road trip.
After a late lunch, we set our sights for Sturbridge, Massacusetts, which was to serve as our base of operations. Thursday night was fairly uneventful but DID include a certain liquor of Mexican origin and Karaoke; a potentially embarrasing, but fun, combination (Rick, DO NOT share the video of me singing "Californication" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers as clearly my rendition of Audioslave's "Like a Stone" was far superior).
Friday morning dawned bright and sunny, a very promising weather pattern for spending an entire day outside watching professional golf live and in person. We arrived at TPC River Highlands mid-morning, parked our very manly Toyata Sienna, and were warmly greeted by dozens of enthusiastic Travelers volunteers.
As we entered the property we were drawn like moths to a flame to the first tee we saw, the most difficult par 4 on the course, number 10, and we excitedly sat in the small bleachers just behind the tee box, facing down the fairway.
The first group to come through was a good one; Ryan Moore, Harris English and Marc Leishman. The fairway is very tight, with a large tree about halfway down guarding the left of the fairway. Moore and Leishman's drives were safe and in play, but Harris English tried to hit a draw and pushed his drive right, into the woods. Now THAT was a drive I could identify with. We decided to walk down the fairway to see how Harris would handle the situation, and agreed that we would follow this group and the one behind it (Jonas Blixt, Chesson Hadley, and Brandt Snedeker) through the back nine.
It was somewhere between the 12th and 13th holes that our first experience with zealous volunteers occured. Dustin and Rick, noticing two porta-potties tucked behind a scoreboard, wandered over to use them. They had to cross a set of ropes, which apparently one is NEVER supposed to do. Rick immediately slunk back to the group when the volunteer yelled his warning, but Dustin, oblivious to the commotion he was causing, casually sauntered over and accessed the "facilities". What made it even more humorous was Dustin still didn't realize he was being yelled at when he rejoined the group. Meanwhile, Rick, Dan and I couldn't stop laughing.
Once order was once again established we followed the groups along the back nine. At one tee box we were mere feet away from Moore, Leishman, and English as they waited for the group ahead of them to move up the fairway. It was so cool to listen in and hear them talking about equipment and joking that English had bird poop on his shoulder for the past four holes. "Hey!", I thought. "That's kind of like most golfing groups out for a day on the links".
After a while we came into the "complex" that is the 15th - 17th holes at TPC River Highlands. It starts with the drivable par 4 15th, then features the par 3 16th over water and par 4 17th with a pond as the centerpiece. It all sits in sort of a bowl that allows you to view the action from an elevated perspective, which was amazing.
Up and behind hole 16 was where Rick thought it would be a good idea to snap some photos. Oops. Boo-boo #2 for the group. Another hyperactive volunteer nearly tackled Rick while admonishing him to put the camera-phone away. There was more to the interaction, but suffice it to say we started feeling like Big Brother was watching continously, and we clearly didn't know all the expectations for proper behavior.
We shook off the latest interaction and watched a few groups handle hole 16's nerve-wracking tee shot and then deftly hit fairway woods or long irons to place their tee shots on 17 in the middle of the fairway, away from the water. The precision was remarkable.
After a quick lunch we hurried to the #1 green in time to see Bubba Watson's group hit their approach shots. It was another great group . . . Bubba with Hunter Mahan and Ben Crane. I was really looking forward to seeing Watson especially, and it turns out that he was the most popular player at the tournament, as the number of people following this threesome made it hard to get good looks. Still, we followed along for quite a few holes on the front nine, and I got to see Bubba hit some of his trademark crazy fade-bombs off the tee. Oh, I also witnessed his long-iron off the tee just 10 feet off the ground shot. That whistled low of spectators' heads, dangerously close in my opinion.
At times we settled back one group that had Jason Day, Keegan Bradley and Erik Compton. I was so psyched because I was seeing, in person, some of my most favorite PGA golfers!
Our day concluded with us sitting just above the 18th green, in the grass shaded by the grandstands that surround the finishing hole. It was a nice change of pace to sit in one spot and watch the golfers hit their drives, then approach shots, to the green, instead of walking along with just one or two groups.
What impacted me most about the golfers was just how well they struck the ball, and how they could control the flight of the ball. The sound the clubs made when making contact was unlike any I have heard on courses in the area. I was also amazed at how they could recover from a bad shot; their skill and creativity are unmatched.
All in all I felt like our first visit to a PGA tournament had been nearly perfect. We saw the entire course, followed some of the world's greatest golfers, and had a few laughs, all for an admission fee of under $40. I would encourage anyone interested in golf to consider attending this, or any other PGA tournament. I can't think of another professional sporting experience that provides such value for your money.