By PAT EATON-ROBB
AP Sports Writer
CROMWELL, Conn. (CBS Connecticut and AP) – The PGA Tour, which almost pulled out of Connecticut a decade ago, is making another major investment in its TPC River Highland’s golf course, which last week was the site of the best score in tour history.
The announcement was made in Hartford during the Travelers Championship tournament by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who said the PGA would build a 32,000-square foot facility at the Cromwell course that will open before the pros tee off at the course in 2019.
It’s the latest in a series of boosts to the course, which golfers say have been turning the Travelers from an afterthought into a tournament that can attract the sport’s biggest names. The course made international headlines Sunday when Jim Furyk shot a 58 during final round of the Travelers, the lowest score in tour history.
The clubhouse project follows the construction of a state-of-the art practice facility and driving range at the course in 2008 and $3.5 million in course renovations and aesthetic changes over the past year, which included changing bunkers and greens and viewing areas for the fans.
Andy Bessette, Travelers chief administrative officer and executive vice president, called the announcement “the last cog in the wheel to have a phenomenal facility here for the Tour.”
The tournament was in jeopardy before Travelers signed on in 2007 as a title sponsor, with the PGA considering relegating the course to hosting an event on its Champions Tour, for older golfers.
Instead, Travelers committed to making it a showcase event, increasing the purse and putting money into the practice facility, a “fan zone” that includes games and a rock-climbing wall, corporate tents and programming such as big-name concerts during the tournament and outings for the golfers’ families. It now has a sponsorship deal that runs through 2024.
“They’ve elevated it one of the best we have all year,” said golfer Bubba Watson, who won the tournament in 2010 and 2015. “They’re one of the best, if not the best sponsor we have.”
But the current two-story clubhouse is among the smallest on tour.
Preliminary plans call for a ballroom large enough to host major fundraisers, a dining area for the golfers and their families and a store that would be open to the public.
A new facility would eliminate the costs now associated with building temporary structures yearly to handle those types of functions, said Nathan Grube, tournament director.
The tournament is one of the state’s biggest fundraisers, donating all of its net proceeds _ $2.8 million this year _ to more than 100 non-profits.
No price tag has been set for the new facility. Grube said the PGA will be picking up the bulk of the cost of the clubhouse, but Travelers and the tournament have agreed to chip in.
“It really was not that long ago that we were talking about what is the future of this event?” Grube said. “This is a very clear sign that the Tour likes being here.”
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