Definition: 'Stadium Course'

What is a "stadium course" or "stadium golf course"? It is a golf course that was designed to host spectator events, was designed with the expectation of hosting spectator events, and, therefore, incorporates design elements intended to make it easier for fans to watch golf there.

What are those elements? Think of, for example, gently sloping inclines or hillsides wrapping around a greens complex — the perfect spot for fans in attendance to take a seat and watch what is happening on the green below.

But there is also a much more specific meaning of "stadium course," and that is the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. TPC Sawgrass is the Pete Dye-designed golf complex in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, that opened in the early 1980s. And the Stadium Course is the golf course that was specifically built to host The Players Championship.

When Dye was fashioning the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, he did so knowing that the PGA Tour's new flagship tournament, The Players Championship, would be played there. And he set the standards for incorporating viewing areas, foot-traffic corridors, and similar considerations into a golf course design.

So, really, a lower-case "stadium course" is any that is designed with the needs of spectators in mind. That means having areas between and around holes that allow for the easy movement of spectators. It means creating great vantage points for fans who decide to stop in certain locations to watch the action.

Perhaps the thing most associated with stadium courses is the use of mounding, gentle hillsides, grassy berms, around the greens complexes. These become, in the event a well-attended golf tournament is played on such a course, places were spectators can settle down and view the play. Such greens complexes are often said to create an "amphitheater effect" around putting greens.

Related terms are "stadium golf" and "stadium effect." These terms are often applied to courses that were not specifically designed with spectators in mind, but that have a hole or two, or a few greens complexes, adapted to create an immersive fan-view experience. Think of the 17th hole at the Phoenix Open, where every year grandstands are set up surrounding the tee and green and tens of thousands of fans line the par-3 hole in a rowdy atmosphere. That is a "stadium effect," even though the golf course as a whole is not a "stadium course."

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