In his illustrious 24-year career on the PGA Tour Jack Nicklaus won 73 times, in such far-flung places such as Phoenix, Seattle, Palm Springs, Memphis, Honolulu, and Fife in Scotland. One place, however, where the 18-time major champ never was never able to work his magic was on the New England stop that hosted the erstwhile Greater Hartford Open.
Wethersfield Country Club, the venue for the tourney from 1952 through 1983, even makes note on its website of Nicklaus’ GHO futility. “Although he played here several times,” says the “Welcome to Wethersfield CC” online blurb, “Jack Nicklaus never succeeded in winning at Wethersfield.”
Sam Snead won the event in 1955 and Arnold Palmer captured his first tour title in the United States there in 1956. Heck, such golfers as Tommy Bolt, Billy Casper, Ken Venturi, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino, and Curtis Strange all made it to the winner’s circle in Wethersfield.
But not Jack.
Perhaps that’s why the host of this week’s Memorial Tournament went out of his way to bash one of the few places where his name was not etched on a trophy. While discussing world No. 2 Rory McIlroy’s decision to limit his play so he wouldn’t burn out by the time he was 30, and Bubba Watson taking a month off to spend time with his family (ironically, the reigning Masters champ won his first tour event in 2010 at the current version of the GHO), Nicklaus took a swipe at the insurance capital of the world.
“I laugh at this because it’s a different golf course now I can tell the story, but I never wanted to go to Hartford,” Nicklaus told reporters ahead of Thursday’s start at his Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Nicklaus said his dislike for the tourney had nothing to do with the city itself, but, rather, with the venue that hosted the event.
“I never played easy golf courses well,” he said, adding that he figured he’d give it a go one year at Wethersfield. “Went up and shot 68 the first round, and I think I was in 25th place after shooting a 68. Well, I shot 67 the second round and I was in 32nd place, and I shot 67 the third round and I went to 42nd place, then I shot 67 the fourth round and finished about 37th or 38th.
“I thought,” Nicklaus concluded, “there’s a reason why I haven’t come here.”
Originally the Insurance City Open when it began in 1952, the tournament became the Greater Hartford Open in 1967, a title that remained through 2003. Canon was title sponsor from 1985 through 2002, Buick backed it from 2004 to 2006, and The Travelers Companies took it over in 2007.
The event moved from Wethersfield to the then-TPC Of Connecticut in Cromwell in 1984. After a significant redesign in 1991, the course became TPC at River Highlands, which it is today.
Nicklaus may harbor a grudge against Hartford, but for sure, Bubba has New England firmly inscribed on his 2012 calendar. The four-time tour champion will return from his hiatus to the Memorial this week and told the media that “I barely know what I wore this morning,” but he made one thing clear.
“I’m definitely going to play Travelers,” Watson said.