PGA West – Stadium Course

PGA West, La Quinta. Pete Dye Stadium Course by Pete Dye, 1987.

This is a place where the starter smirks at you on the way to the first tee and talks up how difficult the course is. It is a severe golf course and the potential for double or worse exists on virtually every shot, but it should be said that this is also a remarkably playable course from most tees—not too long, with good-sized greens that don’t have a ton of movement, and fairways where there’s usually one side where you can miss and at least find your ball (the island green 17th being the most extreme exception).

As it usually goes on a Dye design, the best angles generally come from playing as close to the trouble as you dare and the trouble here is severe. The first four holes have no water in play, but from that point it is in play on nine of the remaining 14, usually dramatically so.

But even the holes without water feature bunkers and grass hazards as deep as you’ll see anywhere. Consider that I made 4 bogies 3 doubles here without losing a ball.

pga west
#6 mimics 16 at Cypress Point, a long par 3 where flying it all the way to the green requires a heroic carry with driver or 3-wood over water, but the shorter hitter can play out to the left

There are a lot of the little Pete Dye touches the make his elevate his courses over imitators—the pile of rocks lining the pond on 18 that obscure the landing zone, the quirky fairway angles, actual purposeful mounding. What really makes the course are the shot par 4s—holes that look like birdie opportunities on the scorecard, but demand as much as any of the longer holes.

Choosing a line and club for your drive on the second to set up the best approach to a very deep but exceedingly narrow green, the two hops over a pond seventh, and the twisting 12th with bunkers so deep you have to play safe even with a wedge in hand will all keep your attention and have as much ability to wreck you as a more obvious long hole with water.

pga west 17
The green on #17 is bigger than it looks from here

It’s not the kind of place you’d want to play daily, but it’s certainly more interesting and fun than other very difficult golf courses I’ve seen. One knock I’ve read on this course is that it is essentially TPC Sawgrass for the west coast and so if you’ve seen one there’s not much need to travel across the country to see the other. Maybe that’s true, but I’ll tell you after I visit Ponte Vedre—because I enjoyed PGA West enough that it makes me all the more keen to play Sawgrass.

I also know people who have had a miserable time here, but almost universally they also admit to playing the wrong tees. Playing too far back is a scourge everywhere but it’s an especially bad idea here. Even if you think you can handle 7,300 yards at home (hint: you probably can’t), you don’t see many courses with a rating of 75.8/148.

It’s worth playing the Stadium course, but play it up, play a match so you can pick up when you’re making a mess, and laugh it off when Dye blows you up anyway.

California 1st Quintile [2016]