[PHOTO: Ben Jared]

Xander Schauffele is a frequent visitor to pre-tournament press conferences. Instead of being asked about his winning drought ending after securing his first major title last month at the PGA Championship, his conversation with the media ahead of the Travelers Championship veered to other topics.

A hot button topic in Tuesday’s pressers was the changes made to TPC River Highlands after last year’s tournament. Prominent players like Rory McIlroy criticised the sub 6,300-metre layout for its lack of difficulty, suggesting that technological advancements had “passed this course by”. So ahead of this year, the PGA Tour’s design team oversaw “competitive enhancements” in order to bolster the course’s difficulty.

Rory McIlroy says technology has ‘passed this course by’ after record-low scores at TPC River Highlands

Schauffele was asked about the changes after playing nine holes earlier in the day. The 2022 Travelers winner called TPC River Highlands “outstanding” and that the small improvements were smartly done. But he used the opportunity to talk more generally about course redesigns at other courses the tour visits, and he didn’t hold back.

“I mean, for the most part, it feels like most courses that have been redone are worse, to be honest,” Schauffele said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit here and tell you a course that’s been redone that I’m like, ‘Wow, this is way better.’ Usually, there are some courses that people try to redo, and they make them worse.

“So that’s just kind of how it goes, unfortunately, just trying to cater to modern golf, and you know, putting bunkers [in landing areas] 350 yards away, and turning… any time you turn a par 5 into a par 4 it makes the hole worse because the hole was designed to be a par 5 and then you’re hitting a 4-iron into it.”

TPC River Highlands
Photo: Ben Jared/PGA Tour/Getty Images

Schauffele’s comments were insightful and tough to argue with in regards to subtracting from a course’s original design intent. Though Schauffele didn’t mention specific examples of redesigns he disliked, last week’s US Open took place at Pinehurst No.2 where the venue underwent a significant transformation in 2010. Other major courses, such as Oak Hill’s East course and Southern Hills Country Club, were also extensively remodelled ahead of the past two PGA Championships.

While TPC River Highlands’ changes were mostly tweaks rather than remodels, the changes were significant. Multiple fairways were narrowed, mounds and thicker fescue were added to the sixth hole, which Schauffele prefaced during the conference could lead to a difficult lie. Additionally, after his first day of practice, Schauffele mentioned, “It seemed like some of the green surfaces – or [my caddie Austin Kaiser] told me the greens on the back nine, they kind of made a few areas a little bit smaller. So I think overall, the rough is up and the course might be playing a little bit harder than people are expecting.”

For Schauffele, we’re sure he’s happy to chat about nuances to golf courses rather than the incessant questioning about his nearly two-year winless drought. And we’re thankful for the nuanced opinions on course design.