Have you ever played the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, California?
It was half of what was in store for PGA Tour aspirants trying to get through the final Q-School ever. The other course was the Nicklaus Tournament Course, a really nice golf course but not the beast that the Stadium Course is. Not the beast that its architect, the diabolical Pete Dye intended it to be:
Golf is not a fair game, so why build a course fair?
The reason the course is so tough is, first of all, because it has a far and wide reputation for being tough. The mind games begin before you even get there. It’s a par-72 course that stretches out to 7,300 yards from the tips with a rating of 76.1 and a slope of 150.
Second, it’s tucked up against the light gray slabs of the Santa Rosa Mountains. They’re only around 1,200 feet high at PGA West, but they seemingly rise straight up into the forever blue sky. It’s a very dramatic setting; the mountains are always just “right there.”
Third, for a desert course, it sure has a lot of lakes. Doubling as irrigation ponds, there are eight of them and they are used to distraction as integral parts of the holes. How? By running the fairways and greens right up to the water’s edges. So not only is there all of this water, it’s all close. Very close.
Fourth, Dye bends the holes around the lakes so that not only does your tee shot have to carry the water, you have to figure out just how much you can bite off. Because of the optical illusions created by such things as large bunkers in the distance that make them appear close, you take a look standing on the tee and it looks like you ought to be able to carry the water on an aggressive line. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.
And even though you know you can’t and you chose that more conservative line in the moment, your instincts cunningly call you back to that aggressive line. So you have to be committed to the right line on each and every water carry and stay committed to it through the entire shot.
This year’s supplicants left a lot of their dreams in the lakes on those tee shots. The stories are littered with guys who were inside the top-25 and ties line on the last hole…and then hit it in the water…knowing that they couldn’t do that! It is such a cunning game.
And you have the same issues with the approach shots to the greens. Not only does Dye favor greens butted up against the lakes, he favors small greens butted up against the lakes.
And then he sprinkles penal bunkers all around the greens; want to play away from the water? How good is your bunker play? And be careful of which ones you chose to risk tangling with, this is the guy who made pot bunkers modern again. You get in some of them and it’s like playing from inside of a barrel.
And all of these optical illusions are exacerbated by the fact that it’s all sitting on flat land; you rarely get an elevated tee that gives you a better look at things. Except in the instance where Dye wants to give you a better look at all of the surrounding danger. For example, on the par-3 5th which is a “mere” 255 yards and all carry over water. Or the famous 17th, Alcatraz, a 168-yard island hole and longer version of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass where they play the Players Championship.
And talk about visually intimidating features, one of the most famous at the TPC Stadium Course is San Andreas Fault, the par-5 16th that runs 600 yards along steep bunkers from the halfway point all the way to the green. When you get to the green, the falloff down into the bunker is 19 feet. If you’re six feet tall, the green is over three times your height straight up.
The best first experience to have with this course is to treat it like the cosmic joke that it was intended to be. Look at all of the places you couldn’t imagine your ball ending up and then have a good laugh over the fact that it did. And then try the next shot.
The best experience to have with the course is to finally master all of its “trickerations” and shoot a low number, something every one of the players this week were capable of doing. And it was very important this week because all of the leaders were on the Stadium Course for the final round. Two of them managed to shoot 6-under to earn their cards. At least one of them shot 6-over to lose his.
Q-School is famous for all of the inspiring tales of success and all of the heartbreaking, “wait until next year” stories. The problem was that this is the last Q-School that gave you a direct shot to the Tour. Next year, players will be playing for spots on the Web.com Tour where they will have to play another whole year to earn their spurs through a four-tournament obstacle course.
“Q-School graduating class features 26 players,” by pgatour.com staff and wire reports is a narrative about the guys who made it.
“Wide range of emotions on final day of q-school,” by Brian Wacker at pgatour.com is a narrative about good stories and the sad stories and the grace with which they were endured.
I recommend them both to capture the humanity of the Q-School experience, the last Q-School experience.
“Q-School: Meet the 2012 graduating class,” is a detailed list of the 26 guys who survived with thumbnail sketches of their bios.
And so, until the qualifying tournaments begin in the Fall…