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Pete Dye's Stadium Course at PGA West is kinder, gentler than before - barely

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Stadium Course at PGA West - No. 3
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At 471 yards, the third hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., provides an early test. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)

LA QUINTA, Calif. - To give the Stadium Course at PGA West a Scottish-links feel, small gorse-like brush was planted along the edges of the golf course. The problem was that the brush turned 21 years old and grew much bigger than expected, grabbing more than its fair share of errant tee shots.

So until recently, if you missed a fairway, there was a good chance you would never see your ball again. It was back to the tee if you didn't hit a provisional.

Perhaps worse was that some of these bushes were so large they obscured the sight lines of the holes from off the tee. So as part of an $8 million refresh last year for all nine courses at the La Quinta Resort & Club, the brush was removed. Now at least you can find your ball, if you haven't found one of the course's nine water hazards.

But make no mistake, this Pete Dye-designed bear still has all its teeth. It's essentially the same golf course that has befuddled pros since it hosted the Skins Game (1986-1991), the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (1995-1996), the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (1987) and now the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament finals every other year.

"It wasn't like you were going to rebuild any golf holes," said Jeff Harrison, director of golf sales at La Quinta. "It was kind of like taking an old smile and putting veneers on it."

Still, being able to find your golf ball does make it more enjoyable. If you spray it off the tee now, there is a chance you can recover - on some of the hole. After all, let's not forget that when Dye was commissioned to build this course more than two decades ago, he was charged with creating one of the most difficult golf courses in the world, and it's certainly still lives up to that billing.

With its forced carries, scores of pot bunkers and difficult greenside chips and pitches, if the PGA Tour guys had a tough time with it, imagine how the double-digit handicapper feels.

One member of our foursome quipped that if he could play 75 rounds a year on any of the courses at PGA West, he wouldn't play more than a couple on the Stadium. It can be that taxing - too much of a grind.

Bring your 'A' game to PGA West's Stadium Course

Yes, you need to be somewhat on your game to enjoy the Stadium Course, and depending on the tees, you need to be able to move the ball out there a bit.

From the very start, you get an idea how difficult this 7,300-yard, par-72 course can be. Miss the first fairway on the left, for example, and it could take a couple of shots to get it out of the thick Bermuda rough if you don't take your medicine and simply wedge it to the fairway.

By the fourth hole, nicknamed "Sand Pit," you already get a taste of Dye's bunkering. Miss this 192-yard par left or right, and you're most likely in a deep massive bunker. The next hole, "Double Trouble," is a reachable but treacherous par 5 with water left off the tee and right on the approach shot, the combination of which spreads the length of the hole.

Then it's time to start saying your prayers. The sixth, "Amen," is a 255-yard par 3, all carry over water if the pin is tucked to the right. Water looms left and right of the green as well.

The theme continues

There's water all down the right side of the short par-4 seventh, seven bunkers - half of them massive - on the 559-yard par-5 eighth and a large lake looming to catch tee shots and errant approaches on the most-difficult 452-yard ninth.

And it doesn't let up from there.

Both par 5s on the back are as tough as it gets. The 11th is named "Eternity," and if you miss the fairway on this 617-yard monster, it will seem like it takes all day to get to this green that is perched uphill and protected by water left and bunkers right.

The 571-yard 16th isn't much easier - if at all - primarily because of its greens complex and massive bunker, situated 18 feet below the level of the green. At least there are stairs to get in and out of it, but good luck having to hit a shot from down there onto the large green that slopes severely from back to front.

PGA West's Stadium Course: The verdict

On the 168-yard 17th, you'll find an automated camera system so you can have your picture taken in front of one of the most photographed holes in golf. (The photo is available at the golf shop after the round.) It's not quite as famous as Dye's 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass, but like Sawgrass, this island green of "Alcatraz" seems to shrink come tournament time with a title or tour card on the line.

The 18th is about as difficult a finishing hole as you'll find in golf. The tee shot is somewhat reminiscent of Doral's Blue Monster. If you draw the ball, you can't overcook it or you'll find the lake on the left. If you play a fade to the fairway and hit it straight and find the water, you're re-teeing. If you miss the fairway right and find one of several deep pot bunkers, it's pretty likely you'll have to hit a sand wedge back to the fairway. The bunkers, by the way, extend down the entire right side to the green, which is also protected by the water left.

Yes, the Stadium Course is a grind, but it's fair. Hit good shots, and you're rewarded. Miss a green, and you better have a great short game, because getting up and down here serves to test the best in the game.

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Stadium Course at PGA West - No. 5Stadium Course at PGA West - Hole 10PGA West - Stadium Course - hole 17

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • The Stadium Course

    Keith Kelley wrote on: Jan 13, 2009

    What GREAT timing!! Me and 7 buddies are leaving the freezing Midwest Thursday and are playing The Stadium Course on Saturday!! With little or no playing since October, I am sure Mr. Dye's masterpiece will take its toll - I can't wait!!


  • PGA West

    Vic Williams wrote on: Jan 13, 2009

    Hey Mike, great stuff, I was just down there last week to play the Nicklaus Private and Norman courses, plus Desert Willow. Didn't have time to get to Stadium, but I remember what wicked fun it is. Next time ...