Only in Vegas
You-name-it, Vegas has-got-it, and that includes the golf.
It was a cool October evening on Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas, and I was enjoying an ever-so-tasty post round brew at a great outdoor pub, while quietly tallying up how many times I could exclaim “Only in Vegas!” in 10 minute span.
For those of you who don’t know, Freemont Street is arguably one of the most famous of locales in Vegas, better known as Glitter Gulch, or the nickname of old town, downtown Las Vegas. This one-of-a-kind street is widely known for its uncanny mass of light bulbs lining virtually five city blocks, and a portion of the street is completely enshrouded by Viva Vision, the world’s largest video screen, which spans over 500 yards, has more than 12 million LED light modules . To really get the Vegas party going a 500,000 watt sound system pumps out classic rock tunes complete with choreographed video shows, hands-down an “Only in Vegas” sight.
Glitter Gulch has been made famous by numerous movies, and stories and it’s an exciting place to hang out with over 15 casinos, a handful of restaurants and clubs all within an easy walk of each other. This wild street attracts people from all over the world, which makes it perhaps one of the finest people watching locales I have ever seen. The night I enjoyed Glitter Gulch, it seemed especially interesting since it was near Halloween. In a very short time, my I counted a total of sixteen “Only in Vegas!” claims of various intriguing sights and I won’t go into specific detail, but they were downright eye-popping, and filed with oh-my’s and ya-gotta-be-kiddin’ me’s by the time my 10 minute test was complete.
Vegas’ is truly a one-of-a-kind city, and you can still find the 19.99 cheap hotel room and 2.99 all-you-can-eat buffets if you are daring enough to experience them. However, many of the bargain basement deals Vegas once advertised are now vastly overshadowed by some of the finest, most elaborate resort hotels in the entire world, complete with every imaginable amenity, culinary experience, and entertainment option you could possibly need all within one resort. With that said, one can draw comparison from the resort and entertainment side, to the massive menu of golf Las Vegas dishes up.
Golfers have a kaleidoscope of choices, and one could select from affordable, player friendly tracks, to ultra-lavish, over-the-top, fantasy themed courses, and for those willing to shell out the cash, Vegas also has a few of finest golf experiences in the entire world, guaranteed to earn an “Only in Vegas” shout or two. Luckily, for those of us that do have budget constraints, currently there are there are enough quality and affordable options within thirty minutes of the strip to keep a golfer happy for weeks, and if you added in the course within an hour. You would be busy for months.
A little over-the-top please
In the late 80’s and 90’s, Vegas grew quickly and so did the number of golf courses. The hills around the city literally exploded with golf developments, and every major golf architect on the planet was crafting courses in the area. With the city of Las Vegas booming and gaming popular as ever, a fortunate scenario presented for one virtually bankrupt poker player from Kentucky named Billy Walters.
Walters came to Las Vegas basically broke, but used his best poker face and a keen business sense into becoming one of the most successful professional gamblers ever, and a true modern day Vegas icon, and did I mention he loved to play golf?
Walters took his personal flair and passion for the game of golf, and broke ground on Desert Pines Golf Club with a wild idea based around the theme of a course from the Carolina Sand Hills. It was a perfect “Only in Vegas” idea, especially since it was located on a barren 80 acre parcel only a mile from downtown Las Vegas.
In 1996, Desert Pines Golf Club opened to rave reviews, despite the extremely limited space they had to work with. A masterful job was done by the Dye Designs creating the Carolina Sand Hills look, and creating fun, interesting holes which flow nicely without feeling cramped. They used a combination of massive amounts of dirt to shape the holes, and planted thousands of tall pines to line each fairway, providing excellent separation from the other holes. Of course, the work also included a few railroad tie bunkers to put a signature Dye family stamp on the golf course.
Walters apparently was not finished with themed golf ideas for the Vegas golf scene. In 1997, construction began on Royal Links Golf Club, again with Dye Designs at the helm for the construction and design. This time however, the theme called for “Famous holes from British Open venues” to be created on another completely flat, barren piece of Vegas land. “Only in Vegas”, is what I can imagine the architects may have said, when Billy told him what he wanted to do with this time.
The links-style course features cool golf holes “inspired” by eleven different British Open rotation courses, including the “Road Hole” and famous features like “Hell Bunker” from the old course at St. Andrews. Once again, the talented sons of legendary architect Pete Dye were able to create phenomenal features and landforms reminiscent of those in the British Isles. One hole in particular is quite similar to the original, the simple 123 yard par 3 named “Postage Stamp” from Royal Troon, is complete with the 15 yard wide green you need to land on, and also the 5 coffin-like pot bunkers which been measured at almost 7 feet deep on the front left bunker. You go in that sucker, and you’re dead.
In 2000, Walters was back at it with yet another idea for a themed course, but this one was bigger and better of course, and this time brought in golf architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curly to create a lavish top notch golf experience located right on the Strip themed like a South Pacific Resort, named after famous the Indonesian land of enchantment called Bali Hai. This is a perfect time for a “Only in Vegas” mention, as the incredibly lush grounds of the property include seven-acres of water features, a total of 4,000 trees including 2,500 towering palms and 100,000 tropical plants, and on top of all of that, the transition areas are accented with bright white sand and black volcanic rock outcroppings.
A new Stallion and a Midnight Ride
When Bali Hai opened for play, Las Vegas was quickly becoming one of the hottest golf destinations in the country and golf architects of Schmidt & Curly were working on additional projects in the area. The talented architects were asked to renovate one of Vegas’ popular private clubs originally fashioned by noted golf architect Jeff Brauer and player consultant Jim Colbert called Stallion Mountain Country Club. A bit of history surrounds the club as it hosted the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational PGA Tour event, and also more recently host to the golf reality tv show the Big Break II. In 2000, Schmidt and Curly created new fairway contours, modified and added new bunkers, which provided a fresh look to Stallion Mountain. Recently, a new owner and management from OB Sports has brought a true passion for golf to the club, with a dedication to top notch playing conditions and excellent customer service, the semi-private club is again destined to be a favorite of Vegas golfers.
Another favorite among locals and visitors are the two golf courses at The Revere, themed after Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride as the start of the American Revolution. These two courses are meant to strike a “Revolutionary Golf Experience” with a galloping, wild-ride from start to finish. Both layouts feature numerous elevated tee boxes, and high-flying downhill tee shots that seemingly hang into the Vegas skyline forever. The talented golf architects team of Billy Casper and Greg Nash collaborated on this one to craft some of the most fun risk/reward holes in Vegas at The Revere.
A little less hectic
If you have “been there, done that” with the Las Vegas Strip and Glitter Gulch, and don’t want to deal with traffic, a mass of crowds and gigantic hotels which make you feel like you have crossed two entire zip codes walking from the lobby to your room, then an off-strip hotel like the Suncoast in Summerlin are a welcomed option. Suncoast features comfortable rooms, excellent gaming, bowling alley, movie theatre and plenty of dining options at the hotel or nearby. But, besides all of the convenient features of the hotel, perhaps the best benefit for golfers is the location, as it is only 20 minutes west of the airport, and an easy all freeway drive. The shiny golden colored hotel overlooks Angel Park Golf Club, featuring two enjoyable Arnold Palmer layouts and the worlds first “lighted” par 3 course you can play under the stars until 10pm. If you have never struck a ball at 9pm, let me tell you, it’s quite a bit of fun to play golf at night.
The Suncoast honestly may be one of Las Veags’ best hotels to stay at for a golf trip, not only is off the strip and easy to get to, but in addition to Angel Park practically out the back door, Badlands Golf Club is across the street, and TPC Las Vegas is a few blocks away as well. If that still is not enough for you there are also nearly 10 additional golf courses within about 15 minutes of the hotel, making Suncoast a serious contender for a Vegas stay and play. Excellent golf packages are available through the Suncoast, which feature the courses at Angel Park and another very interesting layout by legendary golf architect Arthur Hills at The Legacy. This course has been made famous by a set of tee boxes shaped like Hearts, Clubs, Spades and Diamonds. “The Suits” as the hole is aptly named for the unique tee boxes, add a degree of “Only in Vegas” to the course, and as a professional golf course photographer, I can vouch that these tee boxes are most photographed tee boxes in all of golf.
One of the multitudes of golf options near the Suncoast happens to be another of Schmidt & Curly’s masterworks named Siena Golf Club. With a stunning back drop of towering red sandstone mountains at Red Rock Canyon, Siena has won a few well deserved awards like “Best Value in Vegas” due to a solid design, stunning mountain views and upholds consistent quality of playing conditions. The holes are thoroughly landscaped with desert rock and foliage, and even though the course is routed through a real estate development, the holes are largely unencumbered by the homes as the architects left a sizeable buffer zone, so the golf still feels open and playable. A total of 97 massive, white-sand bunkers frame the holes beautifully, and provide challenge and visual interest throughout the course.
Just a few minutes away, is a sister property to Siena, which adds quality 36 hole opportunity close by, with the Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay designed Arroyo at Red Rock golf club. The Arroyo course offers sweeping views of the Vegas valley and the majestic Spring Mountain range. The course is a player friendly layout which tops out at a max of 6800 yards, and offers a good opportunity to make a few birdies and have some fun from the regular tees.
From experience in Vegas, no matter what you end up doing, or what type of golf courses you decide to play, or the hotel you pick, I guarantee “Only in Vegas” will be heard over and over again. You’ll hear it in the airport, in the cabs, on the tables, heck, you are sure to proclaim the statement yourself 10 times just driving or flying into town from the sheer energy and vibe Vegas emits 24 hours a day.
Cream of The Crop
One thing about Las Vegas is they sure have hyped up the VIP status in just about every aspect. It’s a superb marketing strategy which has worked perfectly to create a sense of envy, coolness and exclusivity that Vegas’ has become in the eyes of the public. At one time in Vegas there were a couple golf courses that were ultra VIP, there was no membership, and no green fee, you just had to be “on the list” to play. In the past few years, two of what I think are arguably the best golf experiences in the country, if not the world, are now available for public play.
Shadow Creek and Cascata are both two courses, that truly epitomize the “Only in Vegas” exclamation, and although they are starkly different from each other in terms of design and look, they both offer something very special and unique. I could spend another 2000 words on each property and still not be able to convey what both courses can do to an avid golfer. How bout I sum it up as…”Giddy” if you go experience either of them.
*Originally written and published for Cascade Golfer Magazine – 2012