Gerald Barton, developer of PGA West, hired architect Pete Dye to build him “the hardest golf course in the world.” The result was Dye’s hellishly difficult Stadium Course. “Pete’s course made PGA West famous very quickly,” said Barton of his ‘80s-era community in the California desert. “Everyone headed for La Quinta to take a licking on it. And when they were finished doing that, we had several friendly, playable courses for them to enjoy.”
Aware that serious players like a dash of brutality, Barton and Dye would generate buzz by building courses that the avid, traveling golfer could tell war stories about. But Barton, who would later develop Kiawah Island and Oak Tree (with its 134 Slope West course and its 142 Slope East) was loathe to create a monster course without providing a “comeback course” next door.
This tough-and-tender strategy has been adapted of late by community developers wishing to broaden their golf audience as much as possible. In some of the cases listed below, the first course is bracingly difficult and the second course is a few degrees more forgiving. In other cases the first course is moderately difficult but the next course is a real playpen.
Park City, Utah
Tough: The Pete Dye Course at Promontory was designed by you-know-who on a sloping, swerving landscape that yielded some uncomfortable playing angles and hidden landing areas.
Tender: We don’t normally think of Jack Nicklaus as the bogey golfer’s friend, but his Signature Course here is designed to play warmer-and-fuzzier than the Dye 18. “Jack studied the Dye Course and wanted to build landing areas that were a lot more generous,” says director of golf Michael Marion. “His course is much less target-oriented than Pete’s.” If you miss on the Dye layout, says Marion, “you’re in the sagebrush or on a tough sidehill lie.” Miss a Nicklaus fairway or green and “you’re in swales or collection spots instead of deep bunkers and heavy grass.”
*** Very Tender Course: Phoenix architect Forrest Richardson was summoned to Promontory to design what he calls “a fun-packed 4,000-yard, par-60 layout.” Developers hope that Promontory children and adult beginners discover the enjoyment of the game on this new layout.
Tough: Arnold Palmer’s rugged Prospector layout, opened in 2004, is actually just moderately difficult for the low- to mid-handicapper. It measures 7,120 yards and plays to par 72.
Tender: In designing Suncadia’s Rope Rider course, Jacobsen-Hardy Design was “challenged by the developer to create a family-oriented experience,” says lead designer Rex VanHoose. The course, now set to open in October, will be a challenge from the back tees, but in order to appeal to “moms, dads and kids playing together,” says Van Hoose, tees as short as 2,036 yards (playing to par of 54) are slyly carved into the fairway corridors where they won’t be noticed by better players.
La Quinta, Calif.
Tough: Elevation changes of over 300 feet from high to low require a full palette of shotmaking skills on the original Tom Fazio course at The Quarry.
Tender: One of the more staid and stately golf communities in the U.S. did something rakishly innovative a few years back by creating an alternative 10-hole links that threads along a new neighborhood of homes. All par-3s, the “little course” at The Quarry maxes out at 1700 yards.
Tough: From its most-played tees, the blacks, this Jack Nicklaus Signature course earns a slope rating of 150. There are a number of holes where both the drive and the approach require heroics, and in general not much letup from beginning to end
Tender: The fanfare was intense for the Tom Fazio-designed course’s amazing 8th hole, partially carved from lava tubes. It’s real raison d’etre is to give the Pronghornians a golfing breather. “In general I’ll play five shots better on the Fazio course,” says head professional Mike Lewis. Partly out of curiosity, and partly for relief, the members early on were favoring Fazio’s layout by an 8 to 1 margin over the Nicklaus 18.