Short but sweet TPC River Highlands is plenty tough for all level of golfers

The PGA Tour continues its run of tournaments played at classically designed golf courses when a collection of the best players in the world tackle TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship June 23-26 in Cromwell, Connecticut, a suburb about 10 miles south of Hartford.  

TPC River Highlands, designed by Golden Age architects Robert Ross and Maurice Kearney, opened as Middletown Golf Club in 1928 and was later as Edgewood Country Club. The course’s back-nine was completely redesigned by Pete Dye in 1982.  

Seven years later Bobby Weed tackled the front-nine renovation, and then returned with consultants Howard Twitty and Roger Maltbie in 2016 for a course-wide bunker “modernization,” using ShotLink data gleaned by PGA Tour Design Services to enhance the course strategy. 

The results here is one of the PGA Tour player’s favorite layouts, a 6,841-yard par-70 course that’s a mix of fair, difficult, fun and risk/reward holes. TPC River Highlands is one of the shortest courses of the PGA Tour but remains challenging. Jim Furyk recorded a mind-blowing 12-under 58 in the Travelers Championship in 2016 after Weed’s bunker and greens renovation, breaking the PGA Tour’s scoring record. 

Multiple tees on each hole allow golfers of all abilities to enjoy the course Dye and Weed have fashioned. The facility, while private, is part of the TPC Network of properties, which is comprised of more than 30 premier private, resort and daily fee golf facilities.  

TPC River Highlands

A tale of two nines 

The course works its way over and across 148 acres, with gently rolling fairways playing through tall stands of mature maple, oak, sycamore, and Eastern White pine trees. TPC River Highlands is turfed throughout with Bentgrass surrounded by bluegrass fescue rough, with a number of lakes and ponds adding to the course’s beauty and challenge. 

The most difficult aspect of TPC River Highlands is its demands on approach shots and the player’s short game. It’s a course that’s notorious for its small greens and brutal tightly mown runoffs that surround them. 

The front-nine here is on the flatter ground but still has several standout holes.  

At 341 yards, the second 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. The fairway then turns left to a narrow green tucked behind a tree on the left with a deep bunker guarding that side. 

The first par-3 on the routing is the 223-yard fifth. It’s relatively straightforward but hitting the putting surface requires a well-struck long iron or metal wood, especially if the wind is up. There is a pair of deep bunkers that guard the sides each side. 

The back nine is phenomenal, and is much the superior side, with holes that are memorable and full of character. 

The only par-5 on the back is the 523-yard 13th, a superb risk/reward opportunity that yields and both eagles and doubles even for the PGA Tour pros. The hole begins with arguably the toughest tee shot on the course and requires a very accurate drive to find a sliver of fairway sandwiched between railroad tracks on the left and water to the right. Golfers are left with a tough decision to go for it in two as the green juts out behind yet another water hazard.  

TPC River Highlands boasts a tough finish from holes 15-18 that play around a four-acre lake. The quartet have garnered enough attention for Stewart Cink, who won the 2008 Travelers Championship to call the stretch, “four of the most exciting finishing holes in a group anywhere in the world.”  

The 15th is one of the most famous drivable par-4s on the PGA Tour, playing just 296 yards from an elevated tee box. The fairway dwindles into essentially nothing, with bunkers beginning on the left side at about 185 yards out and kicks balls to the right and into the water.  

At 444 yards, the closing hole runs back towards the clubhouse as a long, straight par-4. This is a fairly easy driving hole, as both sides of this fairway kick balls back towards the center, but a tree on the left side at about 190 yards can catch tee shots. The green runs diagonally left-to-right, with two deep bunkers on the right. 

A well-balanced mix of long and short holes, Bobby Weed and Pete Dye’s layout at TPC River Highlands is an appealing combination of contemporary strategy with throw-back aesthetics. It can be difficult but it’s fair; the course doesn’t overpower with length but asks players to think about each shot.  

TPC River Highlands is fully certified in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP), which supports ecologically-sound land management and protecting wildlife habitats.  

It has been named “One of the Top 10 Golf Courses in Connecticut” by Golf Digest and the “Best Private Course” in the state by Connecticut Golfer Online for six straight years. 

TPC River Highlands

Great public courses in Connecticut 

While TPC River Highlands is a private course, there are plenty of great public and resort tracks in the state 

  • Lake of Isles GC at Foxwoods Resort Casino, North Stonington 

This massive casino is the home of the Rees Jones-designed Lake of Isles Golf Club, which has the North (open to the public) and the South (private) courses. The North course was opened in 2005 and plays at more than 7,200 yards. It sports dramatic elevation changes and plenty of do-or-die shots over the water. The scale here is big-shouldered and the routing offers clear views of the options to attack each hole, many which sit on sloping ridges above the lake. Five sets of tees help mitigate the difficulty so don’t be afraid to move up to make the course more enjoyable.

  • Keney Park Golf Course, Hartford 

Originally designed in 1927 as a nine-hole layout by Devereux Emmet, who also built Congressional Country Club, Keney Park was later expanded to 18 holes by the city of Hartford in 1931. The routing features rolling hills and a “big course” feel after a stem to stern $6 million renovation project in 2013 that produced a stunning challenge for a local muni. The course is good enough to have hosted the Connecticut PGA Championship, the Hartford Women’s Open, and both the boys and girls National Junior PGA Championships.  

  • Wintonbury Hills Golf Course, Bloomfield 

Located about 20 minutes outside of Hartford, Wintonbury Hills is a Pete Dye design opened in 2005, was his first championship layout in New England and one Connecticut’s hidden gems. The course is set on just 80 acres of land and is routed next to the Bloomfield Reservoir, which runs alongside the length of the 14th hole. It was ranked as Golfweek magazine’s Best Course You Can Play in Connecticut in 2018 and 2019. 

  • Gillette Ridge Golf Club, Bloomfield 

Gillette Ridge has been a constant in the rankings, one of the best overall golf courses in the Nutmeg State. Named after 19th century politician Francis Gillette, Gillette Ridge was designed by Arnold Palmer and has hosted pre-qualifiers for the Travelers Championship. There’s water to deal with on nine holes as well as plenty of forced carries over native wetlands. The three-hole finish is one of the toughest in the Northeast, featuring a 612-yard par 5, a 187-yard par-3 over a water hazard, and a 447-yard par-4 dogleg closing hole. 

  • Great River Golf Club, Milford 

This Tom Fazio design is set just south of New Haven and opened in 2001. It plays across open ground on the front nine before moving into heavily wooded terrain on the back, where a series of wood bridges link the landscape. Green River Golf Club has hosted U.S. Open qualifying in the past and the New England Amateur last year and has reputation as being a long, challenging championship layout, good enough to be ranked as high as second in the state.