By Dave Shedloski
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — The setting for this week’s Travelers Championship is scenic and scintillating TPC River Highlands, which happens to be the oldest course in the TPC network, as well as the shortest at a mere 6,841 yards. Though it was upgraded a few years ago, including the removal of about 50 bunkers and repositioning of several others, the par-70 layout remains an old-style test of golf.
And still demanding throughout. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River about 10 miles south of Hartford in Cromwell, Connecticut, the TPC River Highlands is a pure shot-making examination that has stood the test of time.
And withstood the PGA Tour’s best talent, too.
The original architects of the layout, which opened in 1928, were Maurice Kearney and R.J. Ross, cousin of renowned Scottish course architect Donald Ross. Since its debut, it has undergone several renovations with input from famed designer Pete Dye, Bobby Weed and former PGA Tour players Howard Twitty and Roger Maltbie.
The process by which the TPC River Highlands arrived at its current form is truly unique and quite involved. Meandering through a gorgeous piece of undulating real estate in the Connecticut River Valley, the golf course was born in 1928 as Edgewood Country Club. Orrin Smith undertook a modest redesign in 1951.
Then came Pete Dye, who in 1984 brought his particular brand of genius to a redesign for what was then called the TPC of Connecticut. Though he added some boldness to the appearance of the place, including spectator mounding, he knew enough of the quality of the original design to leave intact much of its charm, including blind shots, modest-sized greens and tees close to greens.
In 1991, the course received its current name, and Weed, who apprenticed under Dye and oversaw changes to the TPC at Sawgrass, designed 11 new holes that included more natural amphitheater rises that provide sweeping views of the course and the river. PGA Tour players Howard Twitty and Roger Maltbie served as consultants.
“It’s all tied together pretty nicely. It’s a well-balanced golf course,” Weed said not long ago. “There’s old-style strategy at work there. You have to think your way around the golf course. You can’t just bust it off the tee and fire at every pin.”
The course, indeed, takes ball control more than anything, which is why long-hitting Bubba Watson has won there three times and Jim Furyk, a precision player, was able to blitz the course for a 12-under 58, the lowest score in PGA Tour history.
Weed was the consultant when TPC River Highlands was given its latest facelift in 2015-16. In addition to the bunker work, other enhancements to the course included: raising front edges and corners of several greens to provide for a greater number of pin positions; leveling several tournament tee boxes, including a new tee at 15; and improved routing and drainage.
The course is widely respected by Tour players, particularly because of it’s challenging finishing stretch. British Open champion Stewart Cink, the 2008 winner of the Travelers Championship, called the closing holes “four of the most exciting finishing holes in a group anywhere in the world.” Within that grouping is a three-hole stretch known as the “Golden Triangle,” composed of holes 15-16-17 and situated around a four-acre pond that dictates a variety of strategic choices.
Of these, the 296-yard par-4 15th hole might be one of the most exciting in tournament golf. Players have the option of attempting to drive the green, but water lurks perilously close to the green on the left and bunkers protect the right side. Laying up with an iron still requires accuracy to avoid left fairway traps. On the way to victory in 1995, Greg Norman attempted to drive the green, landed in the bunker, but then splashed out and into the cup for an eagle.
The 16th is a short par-3, measuring a mere 171 yards, though hitting the green can be very challenging, while the par-4 17th traditionally ranks among the hardest on the course. The 444-yard par-4 18th provides a strong finish, where many tournaments have been decided.
As for the 58 by Furyk, who also had a 59 previously in his career at the 2013 BMW Championship at Conway Farms, it by no means indicates that the course is becoming easier. He beat the field scoring average that day by a whopping 10.66 strokes.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.