GOLF WRITER // GENERAL EDITORIAL SPECIALIST
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The Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am brings out the best stars from the local area

There is a reason that classic rock is classic. Why appliances made in the old days seemed to last longer. Why family time at the dinner table was valued. Why politicians of different parties worked together. It's that feeling that each generation has, that what they experienced in the past was way better, in all walks of life, than what has come later? Things today just don’t measure up to what came before.

As it relates to the celebrity nature of golf, it just doesn't seem to have the pizzazz it once did.  The celebrity pro-am, invented by Bing Crosby at his Pebble Beach clambake, is long past its heyday. Tour events, especially at the start of the year, were huge fan favorites when they involved the major golfing celebs of the day. Leading the way were the celebrity hosts: Crosby, Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Glen Campbell, Ed McMahon, Danny Thomas and for special emphasis this week, Sammy Davis Jr.

With tour events headed by that group, the celebrities brought in for the pro-am action had a depth and heft that made you take notice, particularly the acting and musical performers. The celebrity hosts gradually got older, however, and faded and were replaced by, well, often nobody but there was Justin Timberlake, George Lopez and Clint Eastwood, but they didn’t really stick around or take full ownership. The tour schedule has been absent of any celebrity host in an event title for some time.

This week’s Travelers Championship was known as the Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open from 1973 to 1988, the last four years with “Canon” at the front of the title. In 2007, and four titles later, it became the Travelers Championship. The schedule today calls for their Celebrity Pro-Am to be held, and while there is no all-world headliner, what the Travelers does well is bring in A-1 state celebrities. Those with UConn tie-ins are Geno Auriemma, Jim Calhoun, Randy Edsall, Ray Allen, Dan Orlovsky, Chris Dailey, Rebecca Lobo, Mike Cavanaugh and Scott Burrell. There is Chris Berman from nearby Bristol and ESPN, plus former Red Sox player Tim Wakefield, comedian Kevin Nealon, who lived in and went to college in Connecticut and has been in the pro-am before, plus Hamilton star Christopher Jackson, NHL’s Ben Bishop and actor Dane DeHaan. So while there isn’t a huge national attraction to the celebrity group, it will still be a big draw for the fame many personalities have in the state.

One of the purposes of a celebrity event is to get some buzz going for the main event Thursday through Sunday, and that is always the case at the Travelers. Fans gather around the first tee to see the groups tee off, and at a smaller market location like the Travelers, the cheers have the sound of a pep rally. Fans appreciate their state heroes and enjoy watching them in an arena far removed from their normal locale.

Did celebrity pro-ams have more firepower “back in the day?” Yes, probably. But as long as tour events such as the Travelers keep working at showcasing the best of the region, fans will come out to be up close to the famous they know so well, even if it's not like it used to be.

 

Cliff Schrock