The 16th at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. This par-3 is approached today over this pond. In the early 1980s, one approached this same green from the right, high on a hill.

A few years back I managed to hook up with a former college golf teammate of mine, Stuart Remensnyder, for a friendly reunion/grudge match at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., site of this week’s PGA Tour stop, The Traveler’s Championship. Stuart and I spent a lot of time that day musing about the delightful scam that was Division III college golf (we had played for Wesleyan University, in neighboring Middletown). Golf wasn’t like other varsity sports, after all. “Practice” amounted to playing free, fully sanctioned golf three or four days a week.

In any case, Stuart and I were standing in the 1st fairway at River Highlands, musing over past conquests/humblings and waiting on the group in front of us, when I abruptly cut off our conversation and pointed with some urgency at a row of homes sitting high on a hill, deep in the right rough.

“You see those houses?” I ventured. “That’s the old 13th hole.”

“You mean the 13th at the old TPC?” Stuart asked.

“No, the old, OLD 13th — at Edgewood!”

Stalwart New England golf fans might recall that the Greater Hartford Open — today known as the Traveler’s Championship — moved in the mid-1980s, after years at Weathersfield CC, to an ill-fated facility called the TPC at Cromwell (it was, at times, also called the TPC of Connecticut). This Pete Dye design didn’t meet with the slavish approval associated with Dye’s work today. Indeed, the players didn’t like the TPC at Cromwell; the PGA Tour didn’t like it; for all I know, Dye’s late wife Alice wasn’t crazy about it either.

Long story short, architect Bobby Weed — himself a Dyesciple and the PGA Tour’s in-house architect back then — was brought in to renovate the place just a few years later. The joint was renamed the TPC at River Highlands, and everyone loved it.

What New England golf fans might NOT remember is this: The short-lived TPC at Cromwell was not a “new” golf course in the strict sense. It didn’t just materialize from scratch, springing fully formed from the brow of Deane Beman, there by the Connecticut River. No, the TPC at Cromwell resulted from a complete and utter renovation of an existing layout called Edgewood Golf Club, home course to the mighty Wesleyan Cardinals for years. Indeed, the University had owned the club for decades in the middle part of the century.

There were strong holes and weak holes at Edgewood, but during my first two years at Wesleyan, it was my “home” course. I enjoyed many a practice round there with teammates and took many a licking there at the hands of New England’s finest collegiate players. Stuart did, too. We all did.

Now it’s gone. Replaced not once but twice by completely new incarnations in the space of just a few years.

Golf courses do change, after all, for good and for ill — sometimes by design, at the hands of man; other times via naturally occurring phenomena like tree growth and erosion. Some alterations, like those undertaken annually at Augusta National, garner breathless headlines, while others are conceived and authored without a hint of public awareness or concern.

Changes are welcomed by some, reviled by others. Only one thing is universal: All of these evolutions take less time than one might ever imagine.

At Edgewood, the situation was unique because so far as the Wesleyan golf team was concerned, the transformation happened completely without warning. Toward the end of my freshman year, spring 1983, new golf holes started popping up like mushrooms betwixt and between the existing holes! Unbeknownst to us, Dye had already been retained and had begun radically reconfiguring the layout right before our eyes. We didn’t have a clue what was happening. When we asked inside the clubhouse, no one else seemed to have a clue either.

When we returned in the fall of 1983, more new holes had emerged. This was only a few years post-Sawgrass, and Dye’s now familiar mounding — quite mysterious and exotic back then — appeared to be bubbling to the surface. He didn’t just build new holes in former rough areas either. He completely reversed existing holes. He combined a few. Eliminated others. He fashioned new holes that played to existing greens from completely different directions. The entire routing was turned on its ear.

By this time we’d learned of the Tour’s grand plans for old Edgewood. And for one fleeting moment — I can’t honestly remember how long it lasted: 10 minutes, a day, a couple weeks — we, the Wesleyan Golf Team, entertained fantastical thoughts of practicing and playing our matches at this completely retooled golf course, a resplendent-sounding place: The TPC at Cromwell. Home to a future PGA Tour stop for chrissakes!

That’s about when they booted us.


The approach shot today on the par-4 17th at TPC River Highlands. At Edgewood, this was a par-3 whose tee box was located just left of this spot, benched into a hillside. None of that housing in the background existed.

Yep, just six month after retaining Pete Dye to renovate Edgewood Golf Club, our home course, they kicked the Wesleyan golf team off the premises forever. There would be no Wesleyan University matches played at the TPC at Cromwell. No getting skunked there by studs from the University of Hartford, Yale, Williams and Amherst … No elbow-rubbing with Tour players… Even more tragically, there would be NO FREE PRACTICE ROUNDS there.

That spring of 1984, the Wesleyan Golf Team would move to a new home course, Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield. We would lose matches there, too. We would graduate and most of us would move away from Greater Middletown. Architect Bobby Weed would arrive in 1988 and morph the TPC at Cromwell into the TPC at River Highlands and neither my Wes teammate Stuart nor myself would play the celebrated finished product — until, that is, we hooked up for our fateful reunion round a few years back.

And what an enjoyable and thoroughly bizarre round of golf that was. We spent a lot of time trying to reconcile the new with the old. To wit:

• The dramatic 17th at River Highlands, the signature par-4 which today requires water crossings on both the drive and approach shots, used to be a par-3 at Edgewood — to the same exact green, but from a tee located on a hill left of the current fairway. As collegiates, we used to play that fine one-shotter closest-to-the-pin style, for beers. In fact, I remember just sitting there on the hillside, not golfing at all, slowing working on a rack with some boys as the sun set.

• Way back when, there wasn’t a single home anywhere on the property, whereas today the townhouses are legion. Ditto for the road which connected the course and Route 99 in Cromwell. What used to be a country road flanked by farmland is now a massive, upscale, golf-driven subdivision.

• The 16th green at River Highlands today accepts tee shots from across a lake. At Edgewood, the same putting surface received downhill approach shots from a hilltop tee 90 degrees to the right. That was also a par-3, playing to the same green but from a completely different direction. Weird.

• The old par-4 3rd at Edgewood exists unchanged at River Highlands — the only one to make that specific cut, so far as we could tell.

• Oddly, both nines at Edgewood closed with par-3s. Today, both holes are defunct. Well sort of… The old 9th putting surface survives, but as the 9th green at the business end of a dogleg par-4. The new 18th is a pretty majestic par-4 playing uphill, through a valley, to an amphitheater green. The Edgewood 17th played along a ridge high above this valley, on the right, and 18 played across it, directly over the new 18th green, to a putting surface located next to the clubhouse.

• The driving range today at River Highlands used to be the par-4 10th hole at Edgewood, a funky, downhill, dogleg left. Big hitters (including one Wes teammate in particular, known as “da Lama”) could drive the green if they carried the old driving range, which was out of bounds back then. Today, that O.B./driving range area is the 18th fairway and one of the best finishing holes on Tour.

I could go on. What to make of all this change?

Edgewood had its charm. I had for a long time thought it was an Orrin Smith design but Tony Pioppi argues otherwise, persuasively enough for me. Whatever the case, River Highlands is clearly the more interesting golf course. Indeed, Stuart and I agreed (over post-match libations) that our memories of Edgewood were, in a strange way, fonder for its demise — and for its remaining elements, however peculiar.

The lesson here is clear: Pay attention to the courses you play. When you next return, they might not be the same. Indeed, with the U.S. posting a net loss of some 150 courses each year, they might not be there at all.

And when you’re tramping your way around the TPC at River Highlands during the Travelers this week, keep your eyes peeled for people like Stuart or myself — a gallery member who appears to be staring away from the action and into the living room of some townhouse. He may be a Wesleyan alum attempting to recall matches past… Or maybe, having caddied at Edgewood in the 1950s, he’s wistfully searching for that tree under which he shaded himself on hot August afternoons.

Or maybe he really is staring into someone’s bedroom. In that case, call security.