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.