It has taken almost three decades, but one of the most iconic—not to mention controversial—golf courses in America has finally made it back to center stage.
The TPC Stadium Course in La Quinta, California was built in 1986 under the direction of master course designer Pete Dye, who needs no introduction when it comes to golf layouts that have sent players screaming into the night.
At the time it was deemed one of the toughest courses in America at 7,300 yards, a stroke rating of 76.1 and a slope of 150—not to mention enough sand and water to supply the entire Palm Springs area.
The year after it was completed, it was used as the host course of the PGA Tour stop in the Coachella Valley region—The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic—but after its 1987 debut was taken out of the rotation.
The reasons that a TPC Course with as much fanfare as this one—and built just for hosting professional golf events—was never allowed back into this event for almost 30 years are not as easy to pin point with the passage of so much time.
Much of the popular lore centered around the pros dislike of the course as being the primary reason it was taken out of the rotation until last month’s annual PGA Tour event in the Southern California desert that now goes by the name of the CareerBuilder Challenge. Too hard, too penal for an event that annually has players shooting some of the lowest rounds of the year because of a combination of great weather and course conditions that allow the professionals to go low were the standard reasons given for the pros supposed unhappiness with the track.
This in spite of the fact that the Stadium Course was used for five Skins Games during the 80’s and 90’s, a Champions Tour event for two years and has been used for the PGA Tour Qualifying School numerous times over the past three decades.
The problem with the course back in 1987 might have had more to do with the old Bob Hope Classic format, where you had four amateurs playing in every group for the first four days of what was then a 5-day tournament. The course was just too-hard for the celebrities and other non-pros who highlighted the event at the time and made the rounds of golf excruciatingly long.
Fast forward to 2016 and things are much different. Not only has the TPC Stadium course been overhauled in recent years to make it more user friendly, but still very formidable, but the tournament now fields less than half the number of amateur players, who compete in just three rounds now—and with equipment and techniques much improved over the passage of time for all levels of players, this course is not the over-sized brute in comparison to what it was when it opened and first hosted The Hope Classic.
In 1987 Corey Pavin canned a 15-foot put on the final hole to shoot a 67 and win the Hope with his best round of the week. This year Jason Dufner shot 25-under over four days (including a 65 at the Stadium Course) to win the tournament in a two-hole playoff. Two of his four rounds were played at the Stadium Course.
As one of only two public Tournament Players Courses in the state of California, the Stadium Course at PGA West still justifies its reputation as a demanding layout that requires precise course management and shot making.
The final three holes, beginning with the Par-5 16th and its cavernous bunker running all along the left side of the hole (and needs its own stairway to get in and out of) can turn something like a PGA Tour event into some dramatic theater down the stretch.
The 17th hole is a 168-yard Par-3 nicknamed Alcatraz because its island green is much harder to hit than the huge lake that surrounds it. Even though Lee Trevino aced the hole in the 1987 Skins Game, heartbreak at this hole happens more than not.
The water-lined Par-4 18th hole is sneaky difficult and prone to the unexpected as well as evidenced at the recent Career Builder Challenge when runner-up David Lingmerth lost the playoff by hitting his second shot into the water next to the green.
As a spectator course—or as a treat to play during a trip to the desert region–the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West is one of those bucket-list type courses that demands to be seen and played.
And it has finally made its way back to the main stage after all these years.
Story by Terry Ross