PGA West TPC Stadium Course: Don't Be Cruel, Mr. Dye

By David R. Holland, Contributor

When Pete Dye designed the PGA West TPC Stadium Golf Course in 1985 he was told to create the most difficult golf course in the world.

"Golfers find the course difficult, spectacular and memorable," said Todd Connelly, General Manager and PGA Class A Professional.

Nine of the holes have water very much in play, there are 200-yard forced carries from the back tees and almost every hole displays Dye's difficult bunkering. Railroad ties? You bet, they are everywhere. Spectator mounds? Yep, that's what the Stadium Course concept was all about.

Bet Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neal, former Speaker of the House, never forgot Dye's handiwork. He once took 10 shots to get out of the deep, deep bunker on No. 16. Connelly said Phil Mickelson played the course in November and didn't like it -- too tough.

The course has been home for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 1995-1996, the Skins Game in 1986 through 1991, Bob Hope Chrysler Classic 1987 and has been a PGA Grand Slam of Golf site. Remember Lee Trevino with an ace in the 1987 Skins Game? He hit a 6-iron 166 to the island green named Alcatraz.

So why all these former events? Probably because it is tough. Tour players complained so loud and so long after the 1987 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic that its one-year run ended very abruptly.

Golf Traveler named it as the second most challenging course in America. Most everyone ranks it at least in the top five for toughness. It is ranked No. 18 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list. The course is also used as the PGA's Tour Final Qualifying School site.

"Just look around you," said Dick Grant, a 2-handicapper from Springfield, Mo. "On most every green you are surrounded by trouble -- water or bunkers. If you aren't on the green you are in trouble. I like the course because it makes you focus on every shot. If you make a mistake it will penalize you. You can get some unfair bounces, but that is golf. It is a severe test from golf courses that most people play every day. If you aren't a 13 handicap or better it is very tough."

Actually, any golfer who has ever shot in the 70s at a 6,200-yard muny with flat greens and fairways without bunkers, should welcome the challenge -- a test of your real skills. But here at PGA West's No-So-OK Corral, you might shoot 90.

From the Black tees it measures 7,261 yards, a rating of 75.9 and slope of 150. The Stadium Course has five tee selections with the shortest at 5,087 yards.

When you arrive at the 6th, named Amen, you might want to cuss Mr. Dye when you see a par-3, 255 yards from the back, and a 220-yard forced carry if you are going to a right pin placement. They should have named it Heck Fire! It's all water and railroad ties, but you can bail out on the left side.

On No. 9 there is water and sand running all the way down the right side and it is deep. This 452-yard par-4 is named Reflection and it is the No. 1 handicap hole. At No. 10, a 416-yard par-4, you might remember Curtis Strange in an unforgettable 1990 Skins Game shot. He took off one shoe and sock and stood in the water to hit a pitching wedge 125 yards to within eight feet of the flag to extend a Skin.

On the 571-yard, par-5 16th, there is a massive greenside bunker, complete with stairs. This pit of terror sits 19 feet below the level of the green.

Alcatraz is the most photographed hole on the course. The No. 17 island green can be played from 168 yards to a short 83 yards. But if the green is firm, hitting it to the back might result in a watery conclusion.

So what do others say about the course?

"User friendly my butt," said one golfer who wished to remain unknown. "The Stadium course is cruelly hard. Even good shots can be severely punished if they are not quite good. Still, if you want to shoot an easy 80, play at Sun City. I love this course, but it's hard. There's something hard about every hole, especially so after the first couple holes. You have to think about what you want to do, what can go wrong, and what shot you know you can hit under pressure. Every hole you do well on is a triumph. There are so many epic features on this course that having so many makes it seem like miniature golf, but, all in all, it'll let you know how good you are."

So, even though the pros think it's too difficult, the amateurs keep coming by the thousands to test the TPC Stadium Course, even paying as much at $235 for 18 holes (fees vary throughout the year).

The difficulty of the TPC Stadium course is kind of like what the pioneers faced when establishing the Palm Springs area as a vacation spot. Who in their right mind would set up camp here in the 110-degree summer sizzle of the Coachella Valley? Blowing heat-furnace sand. Even in late November the temperature hovered at 80. Barren San Jacinto Mountains? Someone from Colorado said: "Where I'm from the mountains have trees on them."

But with the movie stars of Hollywood only two hours away, they started coming here in the 1920s as a winter getaway and for the natural hot springs. Now there are more than 90 golf courses in Southern California's summer furnace. In the 1980s alone there were 33 new courses constructed.

And that number just keeps on growing.

PGA West TPC Stadium Golf Course
56-156 PGA Blvd.
LaQuinta, CA 92253
Phone: 1-800-PGA-WEST
Phone: 760-564-7170

Directions: From I-10 take Washington south. Turn left at 50th Avenue. When you hit Jefferson go back south (right turn) and continue until the road dead ends into PGA West at the foot of the mountains. Proceed south and follow signs to golf course.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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