Course Review: TPC River Highlands – July 10, 2023
I had the opportunity to play TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Connecticut in early July. River Highlands hosted the Traveler’s PGA Tour Tournament on June 22– June 26.
I was fortunate to attend this year’s tournament for a few days and equally fortunate to play the course soon after.
As someone who loves golf and closely follows the PGA Tour, it was extra special to me to play the course so close after the actual tournament.
With the constant rain we have been experiencing, I was closely watching the weather and we truly lucked out. The day was overcast and the temperature in the low 80’s with zero wind.
With a soft course and absolutely no wind, we experienced the same conditions as the Touring professionals, sans the scores. We took the hour and ½ ride to Cromwell, CT. There are several ways to get there.
Our chosen route is 95 South then North on Route 9. 95% of the trip is on those two roads.
As we drive in, we pass many of the beautiful condos and homes on the course.
Some people who know a lot more about golf courses than I find having these homes directly on the course as a negative to the course layout. It has never bothered me at all. As a matter of fact, I think it is great.
I had been looking forward to this golf trip for weeks so I had a plan to take our time.
We drop our bags at the drop, park the car and check in a good 2 hours before our tee time.
We check in at the pro shop, buy a bunch of stuff and head to the Grille 58 Club.
The club is aptly named after Jim Furyk’s PGA Tour record on August 7th, 2016.
Furyk’s scorecard is blown up and is prominently displayed at the restaurant entrance.
When Furyk shot his record 58, he was so far off of the lead that there is no footage of his front nine.
If you go to YouTube.com, you can watch his back nine. You may leave with the same impression that I had that it could have been a 55. At Grille 58, I ordered a turkey club sandwich and my guests order salads with protein.
The food is terrific but I’m instantly sorry that we stopped at Dunkin’ on the way to Cromwell and I could barely finish my sandwich.
After the terrific lunch, we head back to the club drop off and take our carts to the practice facility ~ which is a good ¼ mile away from the clubhouse / first tee.
I consider River Highlands one of the best practice facilities I have ever experienced. It is very large with many useful targets and impossible even for Rory McIlroy to hit one out of the range.
I note Rory because he was in the news a bit as he complained after the tournament that the course was “obsolete” as a Tour stop because of its short length (about 6,900 yards from the Tour Tees).
The winner this year was Keegan Bradley with a score of 257 (62 / 63 / 64 /68) for -23 on the par 70 course.
I am no one to argue about golf courses with Rory but there have been 9 winning scores of -20 year to day of the PGA Tour with the lowest -27 ~ are all those courses obsolete too? After a full warm up, we leave the range to have plenty of time to get to the first tee before our 2:12 PM tee time.
The starter greets us warmly ~ remembers me from last year and also remembers me from this year’s tournament.
We are rewarded for our promptness and take the open 2:00 PM tee time and tee off a little early.
I have been fortunate to have played some top courses around the country and I would put TPC Cromwell’s ability to make outsiders feel welcome right up there – clearly in the top 2~3% of courses that I have experienced.
As I am on the first tee, I feel nothing but gratitude to be right here, right now. Hole number one is a downhill ~ then uphill ~ 434-yard straightaway par 4.
I lace one down the middle ~ very far for me. My smugness fades away as one of my playing partners hits his tee shot 25 yards past mine. I don’t play the next (5) shots very well and score a double bogey.
For the day, we all generally play the course well. As I have experienced before, the course is still in Tour condition and the rough is really deep.
At times, we have trouble finding our tee shots but generally do fine. I am pleased with my (42 /42) 84 ~ knowing I avoided trouble as best I could (i.e., very high fescue and deep rough) but don’t make the putts that I need to really score well for me.
The greens themselves are exceptionally well maintained but not at Tour speed today. Because of the rain, etc., I’m guessing 11-12 on the Stimpmeter.
The terrific front nine layout is only exceeded by the back.
TPC Cromwell is just an exceptionally well maintained, exceptionally fun course to play with great modern character.
Three of the four finishing holes are around the pond and water is in play for pros and amateurs alike. I enjoy the 18th hole ~ a straight away 444 yard par four.
However, if I had to guess, I think this is the type of hole at River Highlands that Rory was thinking off when we said the course is “obsolete”.
For an average long hitting Tour Professional, this hole – with the prevailing wind downwind, it often can be driver, sand wedge – probably 9 iron or less every time.
After this year’s event, tournament officials agreed with some of Rory’s assessment of the course and some changes are coming.
I predict that this will be one of the holes that they will change.
As I shared with Editor and Founder Joe Calabro, I expect next year’s rough will be high, the greens faster and the player bellyaching greater.
There is not much that they can do to make the course longer because of land issues. As you can see from the pictures, not all of the patron event seating are gone.
As we finished up, the plan was to return to the 58 Grille and have a quick drink but time ran out on us and we hit the road ~ back home by 8:00 PM to watch the replay of the US Women’s Open from the start to finish.
I very much enjoyed my time at TPC River highlands and am bitterly disappointed that I won’t be able to play there again until next week.