Review: TPC River Highlands

Course Name: TPC River Highlands

Designer: Robert J. Ross/Maurice Kearney (1928), Pete Dye (1982, Redesign), Bobby Weed (1989, Redesign)

Location: Cromwell, Connecticut

History: Unlike most TPC’s, TPC River Highlands is actually an old course, and originally opened in 1928 as Middletown Golf Club. The original designers were Maurice Kearney and Robert J. Ross, a local engineer and Donald Ross’s cousin. In 1934, the course was renamed Edgewood Country Club. In the early 1980s, the PGA brought in Pete Dye to redesign the course for a Tour event, then named the Greater Hartford Open. In 1989, Bobby Weed did another substantial redesign, and the course was finally renamed TPC River Highlands.

After over 20 years of sponsorship by Canon and Sammy Davis Jr., Buick briefly sponsored the tournament between 2004 and 2006. In 2007, Traveler’s became the main sponsor and the tournament has since been known as the “Traveler’s Championship”. Always featuring some of the strongest crowds on Tour, the Travelers has provided some historic moments in golf, including a record-low 58 from Jim Furyk in 2016 and a sudden-death bunker hole out by Jordan Spieth to win in 2017.

Conditions: 8/10, As you’d expect from a PGA Tour course, the conditioning at TPC River Highlands is very strong. The rough is a thick bluegrass, while bentgrass covers the teeboxes, fairways, and greens. While I enjoyed the speedy greens, I was slightly disappointed by the fairways, which were covered with little mounds of dirt.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                          Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Gold                        70          6841                73.0               131

Blue                        70           6518                71.5               127

Green                     70           6146                69.6               126

White                     70           5873                68.7               124

Red                         70           4871                69.6               122

Hole Descriptions: Whenever I play a PGA Tour course, I find it’s always sobering when you realize just how much better the pros are than you. I played from the Tips at 6841 yards because I thought it was a par 72. Although short by Tour standards, this is still a lengthy par 70 for amateurs, especially when you consider the most difficult aspect of TPC River Highlands is not length, but actually the approach shots and short game. This course is notorious for its small greens and brutal shaved down lies surrounding them. I was hitting a lot of long-irons and woods into these greens and had a miserable day chipping because of it.

The opening hole is a strong 434 yard downhill par 4 and one of the best holes on the front 9. Lined by mounds of thick rough on the left and houses on the right, you’ll want to hit the fairway here. This approach runs slightly back uphill and to the right with two deep bunkers guarding the green short left.

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The approach on the par 4 1st

At 341 yards, the 2nd hole is the shortest par 4 on the front and one of the best birdie opportunities on the course. The drive is a bit intimidating, as it runs straight uphill to a blind plateau. From here, the fairway turns left to a narrow green tucked behind a tree on the left. A deep bunker is found on the left side of this green.

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The uphill blind teeshot on the par 4 2nd

The 3rd hole is a long, difficult 431 yard par 4 that plays as a slight dogleg left. This is one of the blandest holes on the course and one I played very poorly, hitting a tree blocking the left side of the fairway. A good right-to-left ballflight here will avoid the tree and find this rather generous bunker-lined fairway. This green is large, receptive, and undulating.

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The dogleg left par 4 3rd

The hardest hole almost every year at the Travelers, the par 4 4th is a beast of a par 4 at 481 yards. This is a really well-designed dogleg right with bunkers at the corner of the dogleg at 260 yards on the right and 300 yards on the left. While the left bunker wasn’t in play for me, it certainly is for the pros and forces them to either lay up short or carry the corner. This green runs back-to-front and is guarded by a large bunker on the left.

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The beastly par 4 4th is a 3-shot hole for many golfers

After four consecutive par fours, you get your first “short” hole with the 223 yard par 3 5th. This lengthy par 3 is relatively straightforward, but hitting this large green requires a well-struck long iron or wood, especially if the wind is up. Two cavernous bunkers guard the sides of this green and are popular spots.

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The long, par 3 5th

At 574 yards, the first par 5 6th is the longest hole at TPC River Highlands and a true three-shot hole for all but the longest of players. From the Tips, this is a tricky driving hole that requires the player to navigate a chute of narrow trees. About 230 yards from the green, the fairway turns right and several bunkers come into play on the lay-up. A bunker guards just short left of this back-to-front sloped green.

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Numerous bunkers come into play on your lay-up on 6

The 7th is a straightforward 443 yard par 4 with mounds of rough on the left and bunkers to the right of a skinny fairway. Bunkers guard both sides of this small, narrow, back-to-front sloped green.

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The straightaway par 4 7th

The 8th is another long par 3 playing 202 yards from the Tips. This is probably the most difficult par 3 on the course, requiring a carry the entire way over a tiny pond. This elevated green is guarded on either side by bunkers, and features slopes on all four sides that repel balls. In particular, the false front may kick your ball back into the water.

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The long, intimidating par 3 8th

The closing hole on the front 9 is an interesting 406 yard dogleg right. If you can hit a good drive here, this becomes one of the better birdie chances at TPC River Highlands. There’s a bunker to your left at 240 yards, and ones lining the corner of the dogleg at 260 yards and 300 yards. Drives that go too far right will be in someone’s backyard and those that go too far left will find the street.

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The teeshot on the par 4 dogleg right 9th

The front side at TPC River Highlands is just alright, and at times I asked myself “They play a PGA Tour event here?” The back 9, however, is phenomenal, and the far superior side. The holes are more memorable, full of character, and show great variety. Unsurprisingly, my research indicates that the two sides were done at different times, with Bobby Weed primarily doing the front while Pete Dye did the back.

The back nine begins with a bang on the long, downhill 462 yard par 4 10th. This hole is notable for a narrow fairway lined by trees on either side and one conspicuous tree featured prominently on the left side of the fairway about 260 yards from the tee. I actually don’t have a problem with this tree, as it forces you to either aim out right or hit a big swooping left-to-right ball. For shorter players, this tree won’t even be in play. From here, the hole continues downhill to a narrow green guarded by a long, slender bunker on the left and a shaved down collection area on the right. Par is a fantastic score on this hole.

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The tree in the 10th fairway further narrows an already narrow corridor
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Lanto Griffin playing the 10th in the Traveler’s Championship

The 11th is the shortest hole on the course at only 158 yards. Playing downhill, this par 3 provides some of the finest views of the surrounding woods, justifying the name TPC River Highlands. The major difficulty in this all-carry par 3 is a short right bunker that will leave some trying up-and-downs.

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Choose the right club, and many will be putting for birdie on 11

When you step on the 12th teebox, you’ll find a plaque dedicated to Kevin Streelman, who began his string of seven consecutive birdies to win the Traveler’s in 2014 here. As for the hole itself, this is a gorgeous straightaway 411 yard par 4. Houses and a giant hill line the right while OB lines all the way down the left. Beginning at about 270 yards, a series of three bunkers lines the right. This elevated, sloping green is guarded on both sides by deep bunkers.

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The par 4 12th from the teebox
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Note the church-pew bunkering on the 12th

The only par 5 on the back, the 523 yard 13th is a superb risk/reward par 5 and one that yields both eagles and doubles at the Traveler’s. Featuring arguably the toughest teeshot on the course, this hole requires a very accurate drive to find a sliver of fairway sandwiched between railroad tracks on the left and water to the right. From here, golfers will be left with a tough decision whether or not to go for it in two, as this green juts out on the left behind yet another water hazard. A safe lay-up is to the right side of the fairway, leaving only a wedge in to this shallow, well-protected green.

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The intimidating 13th teeshot

The 14th is one of my favorites on the course as a 421 yard par 4 with a completely blind teeshot. The landing area is relatively generous, but first-time players won’t be aware of this. From the top of the fairway, this hole slides left and straight downhill to a target green guarded by bunker on either side.

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The picturesque downhill approach on 14

2008 Traveler’s Champion Stewart Cink described the final 4 holes as “four of the most exciting finishing holes in a group anywhere in the world” and I can’t disagree. Holes 15-17 circle a large pond, creating a natural amphitheater for watching these exciting holes. It all begins on the par 4 15th, one of the most famous drivable par fours on the PGA Tour. Playing only 296 yards from an elevated teebox, golfers will be tempted to go for this green, especially considering how narrow the fairway is. At only 185 yards from the tee, this fairway dwindles into essentially nothing, with bunkers beginning on the left side. The right side of the fairway is safer, and the entire fairway kicks balls right-to-left into the pond. This green is a pseudo-Biarritz, with a giant swoon about midway in the middle.

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The tempting par 4 15th; I hit iron off the tee and instantly regretted it

Just spectacular! The 16th is the final par 3 on the course, and the signature hole at TPC River Highlands. Playing 171 yards over water the entire way, golfers will need a well-struck mid-iron to find this shallow back-to-front sloped green. While water is the primary hazard here, beware of two bunkers on either side and tricky shaved down areas surrounding this green.

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The marvelous par 3 16th in all its glory

At 420 yards, the par 4 17th is a brutal hole, and arguably the toughest hole on the course. From an elevated teebox, golfers will have to navigate a paper-thin strip of fairway lined by water all down the right side and mounds of bunkers on the left. While left is obviously the preferred miss, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to carry the water all the way to the green on your second shot. A par here should be cherished.

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Good luck on the par 4 17th
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The hill next to 17 provides excellent viewing of holes 15-17

At 444 yards, the closing hole runs back towards the clubhouse as a straightaway, long par 4. This is a fairly easy driving hole, as both sides of this fairway kick balls back towards the center. However, a tree on the left side about 190 yards off the tee will catch teeshots including my playing partner’s and Jordan Spieth’s. This green runs diagonally left-to-right, with two deep bunkers on the right. I suggest all first-time players attempt to recreate Spieth’s magical sudden-death bunker hole-out!

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Be wary of that tree on the left – it catches more balls than you’d expect
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The approach on 18 at TPC River Highlands

Best Par 3: 16th Hole, 171 yards, 14th handicap. The signature hole at TPC River Highlands plays over water the entire way to a shallow green. Fun note, this teebox is home to an even tougher hole during the Traveler’s, as Pros attempt to hit a Traveler’s red umbrella in the middle of the pond during practice rounds. Unfortunately, the umbrella wasn’t there when we played.

Best Par 4: 15th Hole, 296 yards, 16th handicap. This is one of the most exciting holes on the PGA Tour and undoubtedly one of the best short par fours in New England. An elevated teebox and generous fairway slope invite golfers to take a shot at this green, but devilish bunkering and a pond on the left make this a very dangerous shot. Swales on the putting surface and shaved down sides make getting up-and-down difficult as well.

Best Par 5: 13th Hole, 523 yards, 4th handicap. This is the ultimate risk-reward par 5, and one that fits perfectly on the back nine of a PGA Tour course. Requiring both accuracy and strategy to avoid two water hazards, this hole usually plays a pivotal role in deciding the annual champ.

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The approach shot from the right side of the fairway on 13

General Comments: One of TPC River Highland’s greatest assets is its impressive practice facilities. Located across the street from the 9th hole, the range is fit for the PGA Tour with unlimited range balls, multiple targets, and plenty of room to hit driver. There are also fantastic short game and putting areas. We played after a tournament and were surprised by the rather slow pace of play.

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The expansive driving range at TPC River Highlands

Verdict: It’s always a blast playing a PGA Tour course, and TPC River Highlands is no exception. While the front side is a bit bland, the back more than makes up for it with one of the most exciting stretches of holes on Tour. If given the chance, I highly recommend you play this course and try to recreate some of golf’s most memorable moments.


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