There are several variations of turtle racing, which got its start in Chicago in 1902. In some contests, turtles are placed in the middle of a large circle. The winner is the first one that wanders outside of the circle.
Other turtle races have a start and finish line and have a long history of association with agricultural fairs, especially in the Midwest. In fact, the town of Churubusco, IN, has an annual "Turtle Day Festival," and Longville, MN, is known as the "Turtle Racing Capital of the World."
Longville gained notoriety in the early 1950s by closing down its Main Street to hold its annual turtle race. The tradition persists to this day. It was probably the publicity surrounding the successful Longville race in the early 1950s that prompted the Hartford Jaycees to sponsor a turtle race fundraiser in 1951.
It was a flop, as only $800 was raised. Its failure led to the idea of sponsoring a PGA golf tournament. The ICO — Insurance City Open — was born the following year.
Wethersfield Country Club hosted the ICO/GHO for more than 30 years. The so-called "last blast" at Wethersfield occurred in 1983; thereafter, the tournament has been held at the River Highlands TPC in Cromwell — a course formerly known as Edgewood Country Club until its renovation in the early 1980s.
Canon became the tournament's main sponsor from 1984-2002. Buick took the sponsorship from 2003 through 2006; Travelers has sponsored the tourney for the past five years. During that time, the total purse has grown to $6,000,000, with the winner now getting $1,080,000!
Travelers' commitment to the tournament extends through 2014. Some of the great names in golf history have won the tournament. "Slammin' Sammy Snead" won the 1954 ICO. The great Arnold Palmer won the tournament both in 1956 and in 1960. Billy Casper won the tournament a record four times: 1963, 1965, 1968, and 1973.
Greg Norman of Australia also won the tournament in 1995. Norman is one of four non-Americans to have won it, including last year's champion from Sweden, Fredrik Jacobson. One notable great player who never won the tournament was Jack Nicklaus, although he played in it.
Nicklaus recently told Emily Kay of the Boston Golf Examiner that he did not enjoy playing at the Wethersfield Country Club, noting that he never has played easy golf courses well: "Went up and shot 68 the first round, and I think I was in 25th place ... well, I shot a 67 the second round and I was in 32nd place, and I shot a 67 the third round and I went to 42nd place, then I shot a 67 the fourth round and finished about 37th or 38th."
It's hard to dispute Nicklaus' claim. In the first three decades of the tournament, the winner averaged 15 under par, with the scores dipping below 20 under par three times; in fact, Tim Norris won the tournament in 1982 with a score of 25 below par, a record that still stands. Tour players also seem to have a pretty easy time with the TPC, as two of the last three winners have been at 20 below or lower.
Greater Hartford's PGA tournament has been a big success. Millions of dollars have been raised for charities. The crowd size at the tournament is the second highest on the PGA Tour, averaging nearly 300,000 for the four day event.
It would have been hard for the Jaycees to imagine back in 1952 during the first ICO that 60 years later the tournament winner would win more than a million dollars in front of a worldwide television audience and an on-site crowd likely to exceed 300,000 — a crowd likely bigger than the sum total of all of the spectators in the last 110 years who have watched turtle races!