Host course of The American Express has been challenging golfers for 35 years
Playing the PGA WEST Pete Dye Stadium Course in La Quinta is sort of like skiing a double black diamond, the most difficult of alpine slopes. For low handicappers, it represents a stiff challenge and truly forces you to bring your “A” game. For the rest of us, well, simply surviving is a feat in itself, and the stories you’ll be able to tell will last a lifetime.
“The Stadium Course is on everyone’s bucket list,” said Ben Dobbs, PGA WEST’s Executive Director. “Even though it’s one of the most difficult courses in the country, everyone still wants to play it. Low handicappers may go out and shoot 79 and say it’s one of the best rounds they have ever played. Then there are amateurs who stop keeping score after a few holes and just try to enjoy the experience.”
Indeed, the experience of playing the Stadium Course is unlike any other. The Pete Dye-designed track maxes out at 7,300 yards, has been named by Golf Digest as the fourth toughest course in America, and in case you weren’t already intimidated, the scorecard reveals that there are holes nicknamed Eternity, San Andreas Fault and Alcatraz.
Opened in 1986, it hosted the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic in 1987, but was roundly criticized by the players for being too penalizing and did not return to the Tour schedule until 2016. Significant changes were made to take some of the teeth out of the course while still retaining plenty of challenge, and the Tour will play the Stadium for a fifth straight year next week when The American Express (the credit card company is in its second year sponsoring the tournament formerly known as the Hope) tees off January 20-24.
While the first two rounds will be split between the Stadium and the adjacent PGA WEST Nicklaus Tournament Course, the final two rounds will be held exclusively on the Stadium. Additionally, a televised charity exhibition will be played on the Stadium’s back nine Wednesday, shining an even brighter spotlight on the track.
The Stadium Course has also hosted the final stage of PGA Tour Q School for many years, and from 1986-91 was host of the made-for-TV Skins Game. Lee Trevino famously aced the 17th hole in 1986, earning a $175,000 skin when his ball trickled into the hole on the island green at Alcatraz and immediately adding to the lore of the supremely challenging course first being discovered in living rooms across America.
“Alcatraz is one of the most famous golf holes in the world, partly because of that,” Dobbs said. “Watching on TV, everyone can appreciate what it would feel like to come to the 71st hole of a tournament and you’re either leading or one shot behind and having to make that shot to the island green.”
While Alcatraz – which plays 168 yards from the back tees – is without a doubt the Stadium Course’s signature hole, the 439-yard 18th is no joke either. With water lining the entire left side of the fairway and strategically placed bunkers on the right, it makes for a white-knuckle finishing hole. The 16th features a green-side bunker that’s approximately 30 feet below the putting surface and has made for some memorable shots over the years. Dobbs said the sixth hole flies under the radar a bit, but it’s a long par three that plays 223 yards from the blue tees over water.
“The course never lets up – there are really no easy holes,” Dobbs said. “Pete Dye doesn’t give golfers any free holes where they can miss a shot or two. What I enjoy about it most is that you really have to think your way through it.”
The Stadium Course is set for a significant renovation of its greens this summer. Similar to what was done on the Nicklaus Tournament Course last year, the greens will be restored to the original sizes, with approximately 50,000 square feet of turf added. The turf itself will also be changed from TifDwarf to TifEagle Bermudagrass.
“The new turf will be phenomenal and even faster than the older TifDwarf,” Dobbs said. “We’re really excited about doing that. With bigger greens, it will bring more hole locations into play.”
CLICK HERE for more information on the Stadium Course and PGA WEST.
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