CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) – Before the golfers begin their final round at the Travelers Championship on Sunday, 19-year-old Brittany Vose will lead a group of about 300 people on a seventh annual walk around the course to raise money for pancreatic cancer research.
Vose, who lives adjacent to the TPC River Highlands course, approached Travelers officials seeking permission to hold her "18-hole stroll" when she was in eighth grade and looking for a way to fight the disease that took her father's life when she was 5.
The tournament did more than that. It provided tables, chairs, a tent, security, access to the course, tickets for participants and a $25,000 check.
The first six walks have raised more than $163,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation of New York. Vose hopes to raise $100,000 this year, because of increased exposure to her event. She has been named one of four honorary co-chairs of this year's tournament.
Jay Fishman, Travelers' CEO, said making sure the state did not lose its biggest charitable engine was the main reason the Hartford-based company stepped in to rescue the struggling tournament when it was in danger of being dropped from the PGA Tour.
Since the insurance giant became title sponsor in 2007, the Travelers Championship has generated more than $8 million to assist more than 500 local and regional charities, including $1.6 million last year.
The tournament, like most on the tour, is set up as a nonprofit – the Greater Hartford Community Foundation Inc. donates 100 percent of net proceeds from the event.
Fishman said he charged that organization with finding worthwhile causes in Connecticut that need help, big or small.
"I am very much on the lookout for those people who are doing good things and using our tournament in some way to help them," he said. "These people do so much for us, for our home, for our community, so this is about how we can help them."
Fishman chose The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the Paul Newman charity that runs camps for seriously ill children, to become the cornerstone charity for the event. This year the camp was recognized as the PGA Tour's charity of the year, adding $30,000 to the $2 million it received from the tournament since 2007.
But Travelers decided very early, Fishman said, that it did not want the tournament, like some others on the tour, to benefit just one organization.
Vose's charity is one of more than 140 that will benefit this year.
"They have provided me with an amazing opportunity to let my father live on," Vose said. "He was not a golfer, but this allows me to let everyone know what we went through and help try to make sure other families in the future don't have to go through that."
In addition to Vose, three other young people whose charitable efforts caught the attention of tournament officials have been named honorary co-chairs of this year's event.
Chase Skrubis, 15, refurbishes used golf clubs and uses the proceeds from their sale to help fund scholarships through the PGA's First Tee development program. Mackenzie Page, 17, created a pumpkin-carving event that's raised $10,000 for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Ben Goldman, 18, is a brain cancer survivor who volunteers at The Hole in the Wall and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center and created a television show to highlight the work of local charities.
"It's more than a golf tournament," Goldman said. "It changes lives. It's what I wanted to do with my TV show, but on a much bigger scale."
Rather than have charities apply to the tournament for grants, the event has set up a system called "Birdies for Charity" that allows any charity that wants to get involved to benefit.
It's run like a walk-a-thon. A charity takes pledges for each birdie the PGA Tour golfers make during the tournament. The Travelers handles all the billing, promotion and marketing and provides prizes. It also puts $60,000 into a bonus pool, allowing the company to add 15 percent to whatever a charity can raise on its own.
Another program, Chip in for Charity, allows individuals or groups to sell discounted tickets to the tournament, keeping $10 for every ticket sold.
The tournament also assists in other ways, providing a miniature golf course it has built, for example, at no cost for various charity fundraisers.
"We want to be about every charity that we possibly can work with," said Nathan Grube, the tournament director. "We try really hard to make sure every charity can do something with us to raise money or awareness."
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