PGA West Course Review: 25 years of spectacular golf
LA QUINTA — In the early 1980s Ernie Vossler
and his partners with Landmark Golf
commissioned architect Pete Dye to transform
farmland 30 miles east of Palm
one of the most diabolical golf tests on earth.
It was to be called the TPC
Stadium Course, and it was
put a burgeoning real estate development, PGA
West, on the national map.
At the time, Dye had become America’s “it”
designer following the 1980 debut of
Players Club in Ponte Vedra, Fla. –
of numerous “stadium” designs in the country.
The players of the PGA Tour were already
wailing about the brutality of the TPC,
which Dye famously replied, “Golf is not a fair
game, so why build a course
Still, when Vossler, a former tour player, got
his first gander at the PGA West
Course’s 16th hole – with its two-story high
bunker nearly surrounding the green –
thought Dye had gone off the sadistic deep
Vossler asked Dye to tone it down. The man
dubbed the “Marquis de Sod” refused.
they made a bet. If Dye could put one shot
from the cavernous bunker, 20 feet
within 10 feet of the pin in three tries, the
crater would go untouched.
Dye, in his 60s at the time, required only one
attempt, hitting a floater to 2 feet.
Vossler is said to have turned and walked
away without a word, and PGA West had
first of a thousand tales to tell.
The 25th anniversary of the opening of the
Stadium Course is being celebrated this
month, and there is no doubt that the famous
layout and its surrounding
4,000 homes have had a long-lasting impact on
golf in Southern California and the
“It’s clearly one of the most iconic brands as a
golf destination – and that’s not
drinking the Kool-Aid,” said Mike Kelly, PGA
West’s executive director of golf.
The self-proclaimed “Western Home of Golf in
America” now features six courses –
public and three private – and is owned by
Morgan Stanley, which also operates
Quinta Resort and Club and its three courses.
That’s nine pristine layouts within
of each other, set in spectacular scenery at
the foot of the Santa Rosa
Even non-golfers will recognize the designers
of the nine courses: Dye (three),
Nicklaus (two), Arnold Palmer (two), Greg
Norman and Tom Weiskopf.
“There are individual better courses,” Kelly
said. “But I don’t think you can find a
collection of designers and a better collection
of courses under one umbrella.”
The Stadium Course is the track that golfers
love to hate or hate to love. It hosts
PGA Tour’s Qualifying School every two years
and the tee sheets are often full,
the masochists who shell out $229 in prime
season to play holes dubbed The Sand
Alcatraz and Amen. The 16th hole and its
infamous bunker? They call it San
Golf Digest ranked the Stadium Course as the
fourth-toughest in America in 2007.
think Torrey Pines South is a brute? From the
back tees, the Stadium is rated two
strokes harder (76.1 to 74.1) by the Southern
California Golf Association.
There are 5,000 railroad ties, waste bunkers
200 yards long, water on nine holes,
bunkers strewn everywhere. Dye called it the
“grenade attack look.” It’s the
The late Jim Murray once wrote of the
Stadium, “"You need a camel, a canoe, a
and a tourniquet to get through it."
From the time of the Stadium’s opening, it took
only a few months for it to become
famous, and only another few months to
The Stadium hosted the 1986 Skins Game only
seven months after Nicklaus won
Masters at age 46. A year later in the Skins, it
was Lee Trevino who would
Stadium’s most famous shot, a 6-iron hole-in-
one at the island 17th named
would be the only ace in 26 editions of the
Trevino’s thrill that year came after the rank-
and-file PGA Tour pros were livid at
to play the Stadium for the first time in the
1987 Bob Hope rotation. After they’d
averaged more than 74 strokes, 50 players
voted in a closed-door meeting to
course from the event.
“They condemned it, and I was sick,” Dye said
in a 2006 interview.
The tour caved and moved to the Palmer
Private Course – where the tournament is
played and where David Duval shot 59 to win
the ’99 Hope.
Fifty-nine? For the average hack, that’s a nine
worth celebrating on the Stadium.
IF YOU GO
La Quinta Resort & Club
Opened in 1926, the La Quinta Resort is a
member of Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria
Amid some of the most beautiful surroundings
in all of Southern California, it
hacienda-style casitas and 796 guestrooms
and villas. One of the key features at
Quinta is that there is a pool around nearly
every corner – 41 of them in all. There
are 53 hot spas, 23 championship tennis
courts, a shopping plaza, spa and fitness
facilities, and three restaurants.
A look at the five public golf courses at PGA
West and La Quinta:
PGA West TPC Stadium Course
It easily lives up to its reputation for being a
brutal for an average golfer, but it
unforgettable shot requirements, and if you
pull off just one, it’s a lifetime memory.
PGA West Nicklaus Tournament
Forgiving off the tee and demanding around
the greens, this course joins the
hosting the PGA Tour Qualifying School every
two years. It also has hosted the
Grand Slam and Diners Club Matches. Green
PGA West Norman Course
Aussie Greg Norman delivered an “outback”
experience by designing a target-style
that has only 68 acres of turf and nine lakes.
There is sand, sand everywhere,
102 crushed white marble bunkers. The 11th
hole is only 300 yards from the blues
has 15 bunkers! Green fees: $59-$205.
La Quinta Mountain Course
Forgiving for a Pete Dye design, this may also
be the most beautiful course among
five. It has numerous holes set against the
mountain and the final stretch is
A must-play course on any visit. Green fees:
La Quinta Dunes Course
A Dye design that has been reworked recently,
this is a links-style course with
and Irish flair. There’s plenty of bump-and-run
golf to be played, and there are a
railroad ties and water, too. Green fees: $49-
On the web
La Quinta Resort: laquintaresort.com
PGA West: pgawest.com