Located on a bluff above the Connecticut River, the TPC course originally belonged to Middletown Golf Club when it was established in 1928, changing hands six years later to become the property of Edgewood County Club.
The PGA Tour acquired the course in the early1980s, bringing in Pete Dye to redesign the layout to professional tournament standards before it re-opened as the TPC of Connecticut, hosting the Greater Hartford Open with both Canon and Sammy Davis Jnr as title sponsors.
Just a few years later, the course was further remodelled by Bobby Weed, in consultation with Tour professionals Howard Twitty and Roger Maltbie, and renamed TPC River Highlands, with the PGA Tour event losing Sammy Davis Jnr from its title.
Now known as the Travelers Championship, this professional tournament attracts huge crowds, and their massive numbers make it second only to the Phoenix Open for the most-attended PGA Tour event every year.
The course is routed around a 148-acre property, with tree-lined bent grass playing corridors skirting a number of water hazards along the way. Holes 15 to 18 are certainly aquatically challenged as they play around a four-acre lake, making this closing stretch of four holes one of the most exciting on the pro circuit.
TPC River Highlands is home to the Travelers Championship. The winner of that event usually posts some really low scores. The course is very nice but predominantly the greens are relatively easy to read so good putters will bring this course to it's knees. First hole is a nice par 4. It can feel a little claustrophobic though as there is OB right and left. 2 is a short par 4 up hill 3 is a nice par 4 4 is the #1 handicap. Long par 4 dogleg right with a huge tree forming the dogleg. 5 is an uninteresting par 3 6 a par 5 with some need for accuracy as many fairway bunkers. 7 a straight away par 4 8 a decent par 3 and 9 a par 4 sliding along the houses on the right. 10 is my favorite hole a nice par 4 with a tree in the fairway about 2/3 of way right to left. 11 a down hill par 3 don't go over...12 straight away par 4 13 a devilish par 5 which has water in play off tee and short of green, but for tour quality play its a drive and hybrid/mid iron. 14 is blind tee ball and down hill par 4. 15 is drivable par 4 with water left. 16 a nice par 3 over the water. 17 the signature hole with water the whole way right and also in front of green. Challenging for most but layup and short iron for tour pro. 18 a bombers delight into the stadium side finish with hills left and right. Fun to play. Grounds very congenial for a PGA tour event. Always in great shape. Very welcoming staff.
I have watched over the years the steady progression of TPC River Highlands and the existing version is certainly worth attention and for those able to wrangle an invitation to play, a joy to behold. My rating of four balls is based on what exists for golf in the State of Connecticut. The Nutmeg State doesn't remotely have the depth of comparable sized locations such as Massachusetts and New Jersey. Frankly, one can make a good argument that Rhode Island has the greater depth of courses -- both on the private and public side of the aisle.
However, TPC River Highlands has been strengthened over the years and the layout that the world's best professionals play each June with The Traveler's event is especially well done. The wherewithal for low scores is certainly present. Consider Jordan Spieth at this year's event -- he opened with a tie for the first round lead shooting 63. The next day -- on the same course -- the three-time major champion shot 73. In short -- the course is for the taking -- but it doesn't just give it away. The architecture is an interesting mixture between the more bucolic front nine and the ever risky back nine where major swings -- both up and down -- can be made.
The front nine is rather straightforward in its presentation. There are no gimmick holes -- just the need for solid play. There are no standout holes because that would likely imply there are a few of lesser quality. That's not the case here.
The inner half of holes is what makes TPC River Highlands special. The inward half commences with a solid long par-4 at the 10th. The fairway is not spacious and the prudent play is to avoid a mega-sized oak tree which awaits golfers who pull their shots in that direction. The green is equal to the task -- long and slender with danger to the far left.
The drop-shot par-3 11th is a good change of pace hole and the par-4 12th is especially well done for a mid-length hole. The player must decide to either lay-up (which most do) before the terrain plunges downhill. The green is wonderfully contoured and only the best of approaches will have a good shot at birdie. The 13th is the lone par-5 on the back nine and here the player faces a challenge with a pesky pond that protects the left side of the green.
The 14th is another solid mid-length par-4 -- the drive can run out a long ways and if in the fairway provide a short pitch to a green that provides plenty of movement.
The ending quartet of holes is what makes TPC River Highlands memorable. The short par-4 15th -- plays only 296 yards -- but is clearly one of the best short par-4 holes in all of New England. There is a pond to the left of the green and for those who hook it will mean a watery grave. The bailout right provides no quarter with a series of bunkers on that side. The green is simply grand. The target is elevated and there are numerous movements and sections on the green. Any number from two (2) to seven (7) can be made.
The 16th is a beautiful par-3 played over the same pond encountered at the 15th. The green is elevated and any long approach will be pressed to walk away with par as the surface slopes away. The par-4 17th is reminiscent of holes found at TPC Sawgrass. The same pond from the preceding two holes is in play. Any tee shot pushed to the right will mean a quick splash. The closer the tee shot is played to the water's edge the easier the angle to the green will be as the same pond once again enters the picture.
The ending hole is a quality closing par-4. The drive is tested with bunkers on both sides of the fairway with the one on the left the more pressing concern. The green sits in an amphitheater area ideal for the thousands who will witness the conclusion of the Traveler's event.
All in all, TPC River Highlands is far better than many other private clubs in Connecticut and easily would make my top 5-6 in the State. The course has benefited from various tweaks over the years and the turf quality is generally top notch too. Interestingly, after this year -- the long PGA TOUR event in all of New England will be here at TPC River Highlands. The quality of the event has made a big time impression with the strength of the field -- most notably following the US Open. The architecture is not of the vintage level found with the classic courses in the region but make no mistake about it -- TPC River Highlands has plenty of interesting shots to be played and holes to keep you on your toe's throughout the round.
by M. James Ward