Did Changes to TPC River Highlands Make the Travelers Any Tougher?

Diving into the data to see if work done at TPC River Highlands to toughen the course actually did that


Last June, Keegan Bradley won the 2023 Travelers Championship with a tournament record score of -23, prompting officials to look for ways to toughen the golf course. In Rory McIlroy’s words, technology had rendered the golf course “obsolete.”  A year later, changes have been made to six holes, including narrowing fairways, adding mounding, moving the ninth tee box to bring trees more into the line of play, shrinking the 11th green, and cutting off the 12th fairway at driver landing distance, replacing it with rough.

Broadly speaking, the modifications aimed to provide more of a test by shrinking the playing areas, especially at spots that could add challenge for PGA Tour players. At this year’s championship, the winning score was -22. All four rounds had a lower scoring average than the corresponding rounds in 2023, by about half a stroke on average. However, this is primarily due to the 2024 tournament being a limited field Signature Event, which increases the average skill of each player in the field. Essentially, adding players to the field would likely raise the expected scoring average, as you’d be adding less-skilled players.

On the whole, the changes to the golf course seem fine. Over time, original hole designs had been compromised. Take the ninth hole, where players could bang driver down the right and cut off distance on the dogleg. By relocating the tee box closer to trees on the right, players are forced to play the hole more similarly to the intended design.

The first picture here shows off-the-tee dispersion and scoring from the fourth round in 2023, while the second picture shows the same data for the first round in 2024.

Off-the-tee dispersion and scoring from the fourth round in 2023 at No. 9 (PGA Tour/ShotLink)

Off-the-tee dispersion and scoring from the first round in 2024 at No. 9 (PGA Tour/ShotLink)

At the same time, these changes ultimately make a very small impact on the overall difficulty of the golf course. Even if the fields and playing conditions were identical before and after the changes, I’d be surprised if they would have impacted the overall scoring average by more than ~0.2 strokes or so.

Few golf courses on the short end of the distance spectrum can adequately test the world’s best. People can point to venues like Colonial Country Club and Harbour Town, short yet cleverly designed golf courses that can provide a solid test of professional golf when played under the right conditions.

A key difference is that events at those golf courses tend to be played in better conditions for testing pro golfers. Harbour Town reliably has wind as a defense, and Colonial typically plays firm and/or windy. TPC River Highlands, on the other hand, is much less likely to play in ideal conditions. June is a rainy month in Connecticut, and wind is rarely a significant factor.

The other difference is that, frankly, the design at TPC River Highlands just doesn’t ask many difficult questions of modern professional golfers. The greens are simple, and you’ll have a wedge in your hands more often than not. That’s a recipe for birdies. During both rounds on Saturday and Sunday, 16 of the holes played under par. The gas pedal stays pressed to the floor for the whole round.

The Tour’s hands are a bit tied at TPC River Highlands. The golf course, limited by its property size, cannot extend tee boxes backward, making it difficult to challenge top golfers on a 6,800-yard course without drastically overhauling the entire golf course, which is probably not a sensible solution. When the course was redesigned in the 1980s, the sport was in a different place, played at a different speed. It just doesn’t hold up particularly well when faced with the modern version of the sport, which would likely still be true even after a modest rollback.

That doesn’t mean the Travelers isn’t a good tournament. It just means that this golf course won’t provide a strong test for professionals. It will continue to yield some of the lowest scores of the year, especially when it’s soft. At this year’s Travelers alone, Cameron Young shot 59 on Saturday, Sepp Straka fired a 61 on Sunday, and there were seven 62s shot throughout the week.

Fans show up in droves in Cromwell, and there aren’t any other annual PGA Tour stops in Northeast America. The tournament works. But for the foreseeable future, the event will need to embrace its identity as a birdie-fest with a rich history of exciting, memorable finishes down the closing stretch. I appreciate the Tour’s efforts to improve the way the course tests top players without significantly changing its character, but the golf course remains a long way from being able to test the best in the world.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.