The toughest of the three public tracks at the PGA West golf complex, Pete and Alice Dye’s TPC Stadium course plays host to the PGA Tour “Q-School” Finals every two years. And such is the scale of the operation at this facility, there are another three 18-hole layouts – designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf – available for private play.
First opened to the golfing public in 1986, the TPC Stadium course was one of the earliest venues for the end of season Skins game – the popular televised 4-ball match that ran for twenty six years – and golfers of a certain vintage might still remember the hole in one that Lee Trevino made in 1987 at the par three 17th, winning a carry-over skin of $175,000.Water plays a prominent part in proceedings at half the holes on the card, most notably at the 5th to the 7th, around the turn and on the closing two holes. “Alcatraz,” the aforementioned 168-yard 17th, is probably the toughest of all these aquatically-challenged holes as it requires a do or die tee shot to a tiny island green – now where have we seen that sort of Dye feature before?
Golfers generally have a definite opinion regarding the designs by Pete Dye. They either love his work or dislike his designs. Pete Dye is known for building very difficult golf courses that are rarely natural and usually very “manufactured” in order to be very penal for errant or poorly executed shots. He was quoted as saying “golf is not a fair game, so why build a course fair?” Golfers remark that they are often befuddled, angry, filled with doubt, and annoyed by his golf courses. They are always challenged, but they are rarely amused. They often lose patience with the round. After finishing a round, many golfers often refer to themselves as “survivors” of his courses which utilize railroad ties, significantly contoured greens, deep/long bunkers, long forced carries over water and other hazards, and greens that begin at the edges of water.
It is the rare golfer who can take a moment to smile when contemplating a seemingly impossible shot on a design by Mr. Dye. This is why Pete Dye had the nickname “Marquis de Sod.”
Pete Dye, often assisted by his wife, Alice, did most of his designs by walking the land over and over in order to determine a routing. He rarely used architectural drawings or blueprints. He did not study topographical drawings for hours. He simply walked and used his eyes. But he often moved a tremendous amount of earth in order to create a hole. Mr. Dye was not a minimalist. At the Stadium course at PGA West, he moved a lot of dirt to create lakes, deep bunkers, hills, and mounds.
Pete Dye has a reputation for difficult designs that are over-the-top which do not offer a chance to breathe. Most players I know do not list him as one of their favorite golf architects, but often rank him among their least favorite. They respect him, but they do not find his designs to be enjoyable. I think this is for two reasons: a result of his hardest designs being used at the highest levels of competitive golf and because average golfers play his courses expecting their similar score, where that is rarely possible unless one plays the course many times.
Yet I do not find many of his courses to be overly difficult, such as the Honors course in Tennessee, TPC Louisiana, Des Moines South, Radrick Farms, the Pete Dye course in West Virginia, Dye Preserve, or even The Golf Club. If one plays the right tees for the distance one hits their tee shots, the approach shots into the greens and the green surrounds are fair. One can see what they have to do in order to contend with the course’s defenses. All of these courses do have “harder/slightly unfair” holes on them, but they also have some easier holes as well. Many of these courses actually required little movement of land such as at The Golf Club. Many are pure parkland courses such as the two at Des Moines.
His reputation comes from building a dozen or more difficult courses. Why did Pete Dye, often assisted by his wife, Alice, build so many courses that seemingly take “reward” and “par” out of the equation? Mr. Dye and his wife were both very accomplished amateur golfers who lamented what technology was doing to golf courses. Due to improvements in club design and particularly in the aerodynamics of the ball that caused balls both to go much longer and also straighter, golf courses once considered challenging were becoming obsolete for the top modern players. According to legend, Mr. Dye took it upon himself to try to stay ahead of the technology curve by building longer and ever harder courses resulting in very unfair and nearly unplayable for the average golfer. After building difficult golf courses beginning with his “home” course at Crooked Stick (1964), he followed with Oak Tree National (1976) and Long Cove (1980). Yet professional golfers were able to master these courses unless there was a significant amount of wind. Mr. Dye upped the ante with the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass (1981), PGA West Stadium (1986), The Ocean course at Kiawah (1991), and the Straits course at Whistling Straits (1998),
For his final attempt to stay ahead of the technology curve, he designed the Pete Dye course at French Lick (2009) which is 8102 yards long.
In the book “Pete Dye Golf Courses: Fifty Years of Visionary Design” written by Joel Zuckerman, Mr. Dye’s quote on the inside cover reads, ‘Donald Ross once wrote, “My work will tell my story,” and that’s how I hope to be remembered. I find the greatest satisfaction in believing that I have somehow contributed in making the game I love a more exciting one to play.’
Did he accomplish that goal?
Many of his courses have been repeatedly used in many USGA championships, by the LPGA tour, the PGA tour, and the NCAA. They have been used for the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and the Curtis Cup, PGA and Senior PGA championships, and LPGA championships. By that metric, he definitely accomplished his goal. He received every significant award or recognition including the PGA Tour Lifetime award, entry into the World Hall of Fame, the Old Tom Morris Award, the Donald Ross award, and others. I would say he accomplished his goal.
He designed or co-designed well over a hundred golf courses, many of which are very playable. Therefore, he accomplished his goal.
Mr. Dye was an accomplished amateur, winning the Ohio high school championship, the Indiana state amateur, competed in the US Open, the US Amateur and the British Amateur. He accomplished many of his personal competitive goals.
Perhaps his only “failure” was to stay ahead of the technology curve.
I have yet to play Long Cove or Crooked Stick (planned for the end of July), but after playing PGA West Stadium I have played many of his most noted designs in the USA. While I am glad architects have stopped doing what Mr. Dye tried to do in building excessively difficult golf courses, it is easy to see his contributions to the art of golf architectural design.
Of the above listed courses, I believe the peak of his “difficult/but fair” courses is the Stadium course at PGA West. PGA tour pros now find the length, use of water and bunkering to be pretty easy to navigate, but for an average length hitter with an 8 index, it is a very difficult golf course.
For me, PGA West Stadium course is the most difficult of the designs by Pete and Alice Dye. It meets the objective from developers Ernie Vossler and Joe Walser who wanted “the hardest damn golf course in the world.” Given this assignment, Mr. Dye certainly succeeded.
My critique of overly difficult golf courses such as PGA West is that they can lead to a loss of strategy as one simply looks for the most conservative play in order to make no more than bogey and hope for a one-putt par. Holes that are visually intimidating can become less strategic as one seeks to find the less punitive route to the green. This also make a round of golf less enjoyable.
When I am asked about the most difficult golf courses I have played, I will be sure to include the Stadium course at PGA West. It is also a course I would not hurry to play a second time as it is overly contrived to be very punitive. There are rock-walled lakes, sometimes two lakes to a hole, railroad ties, long carries over water, berms, mounds, numerous bunkers, deep bunkers, long bunkers, cavernous bunkers, small greens, long forced carries, large greens, and sometimes over-undulating greens.
I give praise to two things for this course. The nice view of the Santa Rosa Mountains as the sun sets, and the fact that the Dyes were able to create a golf course on a nothing piece of land.
I played PGA West Stadium on June 26, 2020 on a day that reached 108 F degrees, teeing off at 2PM. The course was not in good condition due to the shutdown for three months due to Covid-19, having been opened only a few weeks. However, each of us took our own cart and we had plenty of water. The greens were not in good shape and the fairway grass was longer than usual.
The Black tees are 7300 par 72 rated 75.8/148 while the Blue tees are 6739 rated 73.1/140. There are four other sets of tees that go down to 4084 yards as well as four combination tees creating 10 tees in total. We played the 6739 tees as I played with two low index players who generally hit their tee shots an average of 300 yards. I scored an 87 with numerous unforced errors, yet I think from those tees I would not likely have a chance of breaking 80. My playing companions shot 77 and 78 with also numerous unexpected mistakes.
The course gets most of its yardage from long par 3’s and par 5’s. There are numerous short par 4’s which is one reason why top professionals find this course to be fairly easy as they have the length to over-power the course.
I did not care for holes 1-3 as I felt like I was playing the same hole. I think this is the lesser part of the golf course. In actuality, the holes are fairly different both in number of bunkers, placement of bunkers, and the angles of the greens to the fairway. Yet I had a feeling that the course asked me to find the middle of the fairway and then hit a heroic shot to the green. All three holes play a bit downhill from slightly elevated tees. The number of trees seem to be the same and houses line holes two and three on the left.
1 – par 4 445/382. “prelude”. One plays from an elevated tee with a bunker somewhat short off the tee coming into the fairway from the left followed by a fairway bunker further down on the right for the long hitters. There is a sliver of a bunker about 60 yards before the green for which I saw no purpose unless longer players were playing the shorter tees. The green is set off to the left with a fronting, somewhat deep bunker on the right. There are needless mounds on the left.
2 – par 4 371/348. “craters”. This hole has twelve bunkers mixed between long and pot-like bunkers to a green that is crescent shaped which made me wonder about the name for the next hole. There is more interesting mounding near the green. Off the tee there are three deep bunkers of which only the third one on the left is in play. Bigger hitters likely lay up here. Of the first three holes I thought this one is okay. One notices the houses on the left.
3 – par 4 471/448 “crescent”. Although you have turned 90 degrees for the next hole, there are more houses on the left. There are only three bunkers on the hole, but all are on the left and all of them are enormous and deep. The final bunker at the green has four fingers to it. This green is angled right to left. There is a rise in the land on the right side of the fairway. The hole is bland.
4 - par 3 192/170 “sand pit”. I liked this hole. There are three bunkers on the hole with the first one beginning at the tee and continuing down to the front right of the green where it gets about ten feet deep. A second large bunker is placed pretty far left and has a gathering area in it with a pot bunker placed closer to the green. I found the deep bunker and due to the lack of maintenance of the bunkers it was an unknown shot. The green is raised and has a bulge on the right middle.
5 – par 5 535/514 “double trouble”. You hit over a lake to the fairway on the right. Bigger hitters need to decide how far they want to carry the water which would reward one with a shot at the green although the green is fronted by a second pond on its right. The first pond continues down about 300 yards on the left before the second pond continues on the right with a break of about twenty yards. The green has a contrived rise to its left and behind. There are two bunkers on the right for the tee shots that run through the fairway. For the second shot, there are two bunkers on the left as players try to hit their approach shots away from the water. This hole is likely harder for average length players who have to thread the opening in the ponds. The green is angled left to right to follow the edge of the pond. There are no bunkers at the green. I thought the hole had too much water.
6 – par 3 255/223 “amen”. I felt this to be the worst hole on the golf course with a long, forced carry over water to a large green which has this lake fronting the green and continuing down the right. The bailout area on the left is banked towards an arm of the water so the bailout is roughly half of what one sees. The play is to try to go over the green as a bailout. I felt this hole did not offer enough options and lacked strategy.
7 – par 4 336/309 “black hole”. My favorite hole on the front nine was this short hole which has water down the entirety of the right side continuing to the front of the green. One has to hit a 200 yard drive to clear the water while a bunker awaits on the left side about 250 yards out. Another bunker lies about 25 yards short of the green which should not be in play but provides a bail out area for those trying to drive the green. There is a small pot bunker left, a bunker right and three bunkers behind the green. The green is shaped like a lima bean but is in the process of being expanded for more pin placements. I liked the hole because I thought the entirety of the green complex was more interesting than any other hole on the front nine.
8 – par 5 559/526 “links”. A long, deep bunker is down the right side that goes out about 250 yards with a flanking, smaller bunker on the left. Another 30 yard long bunker continues another 70 yards ahead on the left. A small pot bunker is on the right 40 yards short of the green with two deep, large bunkers on the left side of a green angled right to left. The green is raised. I thought this to be the third best hole on the front nine.
9 – par 4 452/430 “reflection”. I disliked the final hole on the outward nine which has water down most of the right side beginning about 100 yards off the green and continuing to the front of the green. There is a long 80 yard bunker on the right between the fairway and the lake. The green is angled left to right with bunkers at the front between the green and water. A small bunker is on the left front with two staggered bunkers behind the green. I liked the look of the staggered bunkers but felt the hole was overly punitive and did not create enough interest to offset the penalties. The longer hitters thought the hole to be too easy. Go figure.
10 - par 4 416/390 “quarry”. I liked this hole despite messing up my second shot. This hole plays as a slight double dogleg with a forced carry over water which is on the entire left side of the fairway and continuing to the left side of the green. There is a inward bunker and three outward bunkers followed by a long bunker fronting the left side of the green and another on the left. This hole offered a bailout area to the right of the green which distinguishes it from some of the other holes. At this point in the round, I was beginning to feel that I was playing a course in Florida due to the amount of water on the golf course.
11 – par 5 617/591 “eternity”. The view from the tee is the best view of any hole on the golf course. There are seven scattered bunkers down the left for the tee shot to avoid. Then there are no bunkers until four bunkers right of the green with a pond off to the left. The green is long and thin and slightly elevated. I liked the hole as it better balances risk and reward.
12 – par 4 363/347 “moat”. The moat here is a green surrounded on three sides by a bunker (none on the right). There is a long, snake-like bunker down the left side of most of the fairway. The green is set off to the left to a green that narrows at the end. This is a fun hole.
13 – par 3 214/195 “second thoughts”. Another par 3 with a forced carry over water which goes down the left side beyond the green. There is a long bunker short right of the green. The green narrows at the back. To the right of the green is a manufactured hill with mounds and a single pot bunker. I felt like I had already played too many “heroic” par 3’s.
14 – par 4 389/372 “cavern”. Another 250 yard bunker but this time on the right. The hole plays as a dogleg right with the green put into a manufactured dell with a false front. There is a fronting bunker on the left and one at the rear left. A single small pot bunker is on the right. It is a good hole.
15 – par 4 468/436 “turning home”. This has another long bunker on the right and two bunkers on the left. The longer hitters in my group paid them no attention. Nearer the green the bunkers are all on the left with three large ones and a smaller one. The green is angled right to left and is shallow. This hole was difficult for me but the longer hitters hit pitching wedges into the green as the fairway is slightly downhill.
Pete Dye has a bias towards the final three holes being a combination of 5-3-4 and that is the case at PGA West. More importantly, it felt too similar to the ending at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass.
16 – par 5 600/517 “san andreas fault”. There are three long bunkers down the left side with a green that is thin and raised. The fairway rolls a bit. The third bunker that continues around the back of the green is at least 20 feet down and creates a blind recovery shot. I think the deep bunker near the green is silly but I liked the layout of the hole.
17 – par 3 168/148 “Alcatraz”. Lee Trevino famously made an ace during a Skins game here. I came close with my ball going over the edge of the cup ending seven feet away. My birdie putt had no chance given the pock marks it hit due to the condition of the green. The island green is similar to the 17th at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in that it also has a pot bunker at the front (although on the right here) and there is essentially no rough. The green is not as interesting as the one at TPC Sawgrass.
18 – par 4 439/405 “coliseum”. The name of this hole made little sense to me as I did not think there was any sense of theater on this hole because I felt like I had already played it. The hole is also similar to the 18th on the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in that there is water down the entirety of the left side. One difference between the two holes is that TPC Sawgrass has trees down the right side while PGA West has a series of staggered bunkers down the right side with more manufactured mounds as well. There is a bunker also behind the green on the left. I would have been more enthused about this hole had I felt like it was unique. It is an okay hole but would have been better with a slightly wider fairway near the green.
For longer and better players, the Stadium course is still a “hard” course given the forced carries on the par 3’s which can cause trouble. But the reality is that if they are having a good day with the driver and finding the fairway, the course is pretty easy. For average length players, even from the Blue tees the course is overly hard. For high handicappers, they should simply avoid here other than playing it once as they won’t enjoy it and will likely only slow down the pace of play for those following behind.
There are other difficult courses I have played such as Butler National, Bethpage Black, Carnoustie, etc. Those courses sparked a sense of fun even if one is not playing well. There is still strategy to these courses. I like many of courses designed by Pete Dye and Alice, but this is not one of them. It is worth playing if in the area, but it is not one that I would go back to play should I find myself in Palm Springs/Desert Springs area again. I respect it, but I do not get enthused by it. When I think of the designs by Pete Dye and his wife, Alice, I maintain he did add greatly to the enjoyment of the game. I just don’t think he accomplished it here, but then again, this is what the developers wanted and he built to their objective.
Stadium is legendary for its difficulty, and I think it held up to that reputation. Every hole felt like it presented a new, different challenge than the last. Some greens were tiny and mounded, while others were huge and gently undulating – and all of them require you to miss in the right places if you don’t want to make a bogey or worse. I didn’t play the tips, which was good, because the next set of tees up was plenty difficult due to the green complexes. There isn’t much natural elevation change to the course except a slight incline on the back nine.
Notable holes include: #2, a heavily mounded par four with an absolutely miniscule green, #6, a long forced-carry par three with a massive green complex, #9, a long par four that uses a lake and mounds to visualy intimidate the player off the tee, #11, a reachable par five with a sneaky swale in front of the green that prevents all but the best approaches from reaching the surface, and then the final three holes: #16, the famous downhill par five with one of the deepest bunkers you’ll see anywhere outside of a Langford & Moreau dream sequence (side note – if you play the course, throw a ball in the bunker on #16 even if you don’t hit it down there just to try to get out. It’s fun!), #17, the iconic rock-lined island green par three, and #18, the classic Dye finish par four around a lake.
Stadium is worth a pilgrimage for any Dye fan, as it represents the pinnacle of his early ‘80s craziness, and the pure variety of holes is arguably better than any similarly flat site on the planet. Is it worth $400 to play? Probably not, but if you know a member of the PGA West private courses, perhaps they can get you a deal!
Played March 16, 2014
Typical early Pete dye design. Most of the hallmarks are here. Railroad ties, outrageously deep bunkers, mounding, and an island green. Personally I prefer the Nicolas tournament course.
Designed by Pete Dye, The Stadium Course at PGA West is seen by many as Dye’s follow up to the TPC course at Sawgrass.
Certainly there are many similarities that the courses share, including the famous island 17th greens.
Many would know the Stadium Course from the television coverage of the Desert Classic, but when the event originally began the pros objected that the course was too hard and had the tournament moved elsewhere! The ban ran out recently and the Classic returned to The Stadium Course in 2016.
It is an amazing course. There is no strategy involved other than hit the right line and length at all times. It is penal golf architecture, and it is high octane golf.
Dye seemingly has water everywhere and a combination of deep pot bunkers and intimidating sleeper-faced bunkers.
Many greens are elevated, and a number run at angle to the fairway demanding an approach that has the right length AND line to hit the target. The course does not let up.
Two hours west Disneyland boasts a number of roller coaster rides that continue to buffet you with twists and turns until the end. The Stadium Course has a similar objective, but it is a game you will never forget.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
One of the toughest courses I have ever played. A Pete Dye design it throws a little bit of everything at you. For a desert course it has an amazing amount of water hazards. It is so difficult that after the 1987 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the tour players created a petition to have it removed from the rotation. The La Quinta Resort opened in the late 1920s as an exclusive enclave for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn. Located in Palm Springs, California, golf first started being played there in the 1930s. Today the La Quinta Resort itself has five courses with a myriad in the surrounding area. From the tips it is 7300 yards with a Slope Rating of 150. Just about every hole is a white knuckler. As an example, the 6th hole is a 255 yard par 3 that is all carry with the bailout left. My foursome deposited 9 balls in the water hazard before we finally moved on. The 550 yard plus par 5 16th gained notoriety when Tip O’Neill could not extricate himself from the left green side bunker at the Bob Hope Dessert Classic. To fans’ amusement, after ten attempts, he finally tossed his ball out; in fairness to the former Speaker of the House, the bunker is over 18 feet DEEP! The 17th hole, named Alcatraz, an island green par 3 is probably the most famous hole, partially due to Lee Trevino’s hole in one at the 1987 Skins game that paid him $175k.
I usually make at least one trip to the Coachella Valley each year to play ‘desert’ golf, but this week I made my first trip to La Quinta to the PGA West resort to play the Stadium Course. As with many people, I picked late spring/ early summer to take advantage of reduced green fees and to avoid the triple digit temperatures that are imminent.
They include all the facilities you would expect of a top resort, GPS carts, great practice facility, well stocked shop, training academy etc.
What I hadn’t realized was that the Stadium course weaves through PGA West resort properties, though they are rarely the focus of your attention on this Pete Dye layout. Typically, you are standing on the tee boxes looking out over water or extensive bunkering and trying to figure out whether to play safe or go risk/reward. This was also the first time I have played a Pete Dye layout. Whilst it is true of many of the desert resort courses, it is obvious at the Stadium course that this was a man-made landscape. There is very little that looks natural about the mounding that frames almost every hole and green (which looks a little more like Hobbiton/ Tellytubby land at times).
The bunkering on every hole is extensive, often with a large trap lining one side of the fairway landing areas, stretching 50 yards or more on many holes. On the 16th hole (San Andreas) the greenside bunker must be over 20 ft deep and runs at least 50 yards up the left greenside approach.
For a desert course, there is a surprising amount of water on the course, typically in the form of lakes/ lagoons that will allow several holes to encircle each one treacherously, whether forced carries from the tee or tricky approach shots. Perhaps the most infamous hole is Alcatraz, the par 3 17th, where there is a plaque commemorating Lee Trevino’s ace at the 1987 Skins Game (which I watched as a kid). There really is no easy option here but a solid shot to the green.
With all that said, if you pick an appropriate tee box (the course can stretch to over 7300 yards), then this course is actually a lot of fun. During our visit, (last day of May), the course was in beautiful condition, with firm, true greens, lush fairways and modest rough. Bunkers generally contained consistent levels of sand (though I managed to avoid all bar one) and the tee boxes were green, well mown and well repaired from divot marks. I ended up breaking 80, playing a little under 6500 yds (not bad for a 13 handicapper).
Don’t expect traditional golf design. I don’t know much about Pete Dye, but clearly he has created an entirely different approach to designing golf courses. I really did have to think my way round the course both off the tee and approaching the greens, which keeps me interested and engaged. Yes, there is lots of ‘target’ golf, and major opportunities to ruin your scorecard, but if you can control where you hit the golf ball (which is what we are all attempting to do), then you can be rewarded with a good score here.
Generally speaking, if you leave your approaches short of the greens will be punished either by deep bunkers or water. Go long and there is usually a bail out area and a chance for an up and down.
Am I glad I played this course? Absolutely. Did it help that I played well and got a good deal on tee times? You bet. But this has also been on my bucket list since moving to California, so I can at least have bragging rights to having played ‘that course the pros thought was too hard’.
"Golf is not a fair game, so why build a fair course?" Pete Dye
The course has Dye's stamp all over it, railroad ties, menacing rough and crazily positioned bunkers and greens, all of which can make for a tough round.
That being said, it was quite a treat to play at course with so much history between the skins games, pro tournaments and the Q School lore. Holes can be played well but if you are offline a little bit, Dye makes you pay and my round alternated between being impressed by the vision carved by bulldozers on each hole versus cursing its penal nature.
The 17th hole/Alcatraz is as intimidating as it looks on TV. The straight ahead nature of the shots forces you to trust your swing and distance and hope both line up at the same time.
I played the course during this summer (when you can get great rates for Palm Springs golf) but the downside was that the greens were in horrible shape and really marred the round. I am a huge fan of TPC Stadium but no way would I play there again until checking the conditioning first.
Overall, A+ for the history, a grudging B+ for the routing (if I was playing better, it would be higher) and a C for the then-summer conditioning (which I am sure is fantastic the rest of the year just be careful in June and July) and A+ for the staff and restaurant.
Food tip, definitely get a meal at the restaurant right by the pro shop, really good!