By John Reger
Just how important is golf to Las Vegas? The first golf course opened in the city in 1927, and the first high school was constructed two years later.
Courses in the city were actually woefully inadequate in the 1920s and 1930s, and it wasn’t until the 1940s boom in golf course construction that the sport started to become synonymous with the resort town. Today, there are more than 50 public and private golf courses in the Las Vegas area, stretching from the California/Nevada border, through the city and surrounding areas, to the Nevada/Arizona border.
Though golf is popular, there are only two regulation-length courses on the famous Las Vegas Strip—Bali Hai Golf Course and Wynn Golf Club—and both come with the cost of convenience, at near-Pebble Beach prices. Others are anywhere from a 10- to 40-minute drive from the Strip.
One of the more unique courses in the western part of Las Vegas is Arroyo Golf Club at Red Rock. Red Rock is home to both the public Arroyo course and another private layout, and thanks to this, the experience golfers receive here is similar to that of a private club member.
The Arnold Palmer design is 6,823 yards and incorporates the natural design of the desert and canyon. With recent remodeling on the last three holes, this course is stronger than ever, and the course’s seventh hole provides views of the Las Vegas cityscape.
Another desert-style course is Siena Golf Club, the sister course of Arroyo Golf Club and designed by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt. The course features long waste bunkers and deep sand traps guarding most of the greens—it’s definitely a shot-makers course, and features seven par-4 holes that are 400 yards or longer from the back tees.
Another course that recently received attention was Rhodes Ranch Golf Club, which transformed its greens to tiff Bermuda a couple of years ago. This is one of the few designs in Las Vegas by the late Ted Robinson. The noted course architect, whose office in Laguna Beach is now run by son Ted Jr., once said the course’s set of par-3 holes was the best he’d ever designed.
The par-3 third hole is the course’s signature, and has a waterfall on the left that funnels into a large lake fronting the entire right side of the hole. The tee shot is 227 yards with four bunkers guarding the green.
Perhaps one of the more unique courses in the area is Bear’s Best, a Jack Nicklaus layout that features 18 of his favorite holes from previous golf courses he has designed.
Though some view this as a gimmick, it is a nice opportunity for golfers to experience a variety of Nicklaus’ design thoughts. There are several holes from his Mexican designs and also a good representation from his PGA West and Scottsdale, Arizona, courses.
The Henderson area took a hit when Reflection Bay and The Falls closed earlier this summer, but there are two other courses nearby that continue to attract golfers.
The Legacy Golf Club is an Arthur Hills design that opened in 1989, stretching more than 7,200 yards. The 10th hole features tee boxes shaped like one of the four card suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. A favorite design feature of Hills’ are mounds in the fairways and undulating greens; there are plenty at this facility.
Cascata, in Boulder City, designed by Rees Jones, is one of the highest ranked courses in the nation. The course’s name in Italian means waterfall and there’s a large one on the course that flows water into the many creeks and lakes around the course. One of the priciest courses in the area, rounds go from $300 to $500; with the quality of the course and the amenities (including a forecaddie), however, it’s money that many golfers will be very willing to spend.
Two courses near city center are Angel Park and Badlands Golf Clubs, only a few miles west of Las Vegas Boulevard. Fairly affordable (both range between $55 and $130), both are designed by noted former professional golfers-turned-architects.
Badlands has three nines; two were crafted by Johnny Miller and one by Chi Chi Rodriguez. Target golf comes into play on this course; golfers will be challenged by the numerous shot-making opportunities. One of the amenities the club provides is an air-conditioned golf cart.
Angel Park is a 36-hole property, which first introduced the 6,500-yard Palm Course in 1989. The Mountain Course, designed by Arnold Palmer, measures 6,700 yards, however, and is characterized by fast greens that slope from back to front; being below the hole is crucial. It’s a typical Palmer design that is very friendly to all levels of golfers, but provides enough of a challenge to low handicappers.
A course that is high-handicap friendly is Highland Falls Golf Club. It’s not long (6,500 yards), but it’s straightforward, with generous fairways and receptive greens.
One of two Tournament Players Club layouts (and the only public one) is in this area: TPC Las Vegas, formerly called The Canyons. The 7,000-yard course was designed by Bobby Weed, with input from PGA Tour golfer Raymond Floyd.
While the majority of golf courses are within the immediate Las Vegas area, there are several courses that lay well outside city limits that make perfect day trips for the exploring golfer.
Primm Valley Golf Club has been a favorite destination golf course, thanks to prime positioning along the California/Nevada border. It’s the only Tom Fazio design in Southern Nevada that isn’t a Wynn property golf course, and Fazio couldn’t have made the property’s two courses more different.
The Lakes Course came first, debuting in 1997 and immediately recognized as one of Golf Digest’s top 10 new golf courses. Fazio’s goal was to take golfers away from the desert and create an almost tropical setting in the midst of sprawling and dusty desert surroundings. He used tall, mature pine trees and utilized a lake and creek design that has water in play on 11 of the course’s 18 holes.
In typical Fazio fashion, he made the 6,945 yard, par-71 course very playable, while including risk/reward shots for low-handicap golfers. A perfect example is the aptly named 10th hole, “Temptation.” A short par 4, it allows the possibility to drive the green, although players are forced to take a route over a lake and six bunkers to do so.
With the Canyon Course, which opened a year later, Fazio went a completely different design direction. Rather than shun the desert, as in his previous effort, he embraced it by blending the landscape with the course. Instead of pine trees, there are palm and mesquite trees scattered throughout, along with cactus and other desert vegetation.
Fazio also made this course longer, at 7,131 yards and a par 72. Several desert waste areas around the course are in play, but for a touch of refreshment the course is not completely arid, as there are a couple of water features.
Choosing between the two courses may prove to be difficult, so the area has three hotels, including the 624-room Primm Valley Resort. While there, test the nerves on the Desperado, a terrifying roller coaster at Buffalo Bill’s with a 209-foot vertical drop, or stroll through the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, attached to Primm Valley Resort.
North of Las Vegas has been reserved for Mesquite and its award-winning golf courses, but a new Jack Nicklaus design in between Mesquite and the city is proving to be a must-visit layout.
The Chase is a Nicklaus Signature Course at the PGA Golf Club Coyote Springs. Less than an hour outside of Las Vegas, it is part of a 43,000-acre master-planned community. The Chase is the first of two planned golf courses, with the second to be a collaboration between Nicklaus and noted designer Pete Dye.
The community, which the PGA of America is planning as a presence in the West for the national organization, has plans for 12 golf courses.
The Chase is a long, fast golf course measuring at 7,471 yards with a hefty 75.8 rating. Eleven water features, including one with a five-tier waterfall, are scattered throughout.
The city of Mesquite is less than 20 minutes from Coyote Springs and has been a golf Mecca for years. With six golf courses and a seventh—Conestoga Golf Club—set to open in 2010, the area has an impressive number of layouts in the quaint desert town that hosted The Golf Channel’s Big Break: Mesquite and the RE/MAX Long Drive Championship.
Wolf Creek Golf Club could be considered one of the best golf courses in the state of Nevada. It opened in 2000 and ever since, the 200-acre, $20 million property has been a fixture on Golf Magazine’s top 100 public courses.
Drastic elevation changes are intermixed within a winding journey through the desert canyons, and white crushed granite was dropped by helicopter to fill bunkers. Those helicopters also brought in large stones that serve as steps for the second hole, with an elevation of more than 100 feet from the tee area.
This course is an environmentalist’s dream, as the natural setting was left for the most part undisturbed. In fact, the lakes and creeks that were added throughout now double as coyote watering holes. Want to enjoy Wolf Creek from the comfort of the living room couch? The course is featured in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 video game, as well as the World Golf Tour online gaming experience at wgt.com.
The Oasis Golf Club is home to two Arnold Palmer designs—the Palmer Course and Canyon Course. Both recently upgraded, the Palmer Course is the tougher of the two, a par-71, 6,737 yard track that is set in a canyon with large red rocks framing many of the holes. The Canyon Course is no pushover, though. At 6,408 yards from the back, there are five consecutive holes on the front nine that feature water, and the eighth hole has a 100-foot elevation change.
Casablanca Resort is in the same area. Orange County–based Cal Olson designed the 7,011-yard resort course, and like other architects, took advantage of the desert topography. Thirteen of the eighteen holes feature water, and Olson blended the desert setting with a tropical feel.
These courses make great day trips or weekend destinations, and with all the amenities needed for golfers, you might not even make it to Las Vegas.
Liberace’s life is celebrated in a fashion as grandiose as the man himself, at this shrine to the Las Vegas legend.
Vegas Mob Tour
A two-and-a-half hour bus tour that reveals the sordid mob history of Las Vegas.
Bonnie Springs Ranch
Price: $20 per carload
This Wild West ranch 25 miles from the Strip is a replica of an 1880s mining town.
Pinball Hall of Fame
Price: Free entrance
With more than 200 machines dating from 1949 to 2007, this is a shrine to pinball. Games are restored and can be played.
Show in the Sky
Three shows at the Rio feature dancers performing to edgy music as fantasy floats glide by above.
BUFFETS AND FOOD GALORE
There are 16 cooking stations with an emphasis on seafood and steaks, and for an additional fee, VIP status will get patrons no lines and free alcohol.
The hotel is opulent, the buffet is casual. Singles or twosomes: bypass the line and sit at the bar.
Rio Village Seafood Buffet
The Rio’s regular buffet is great, but the seafood buffet is one not to be missed. Lobster, crab legs, shrimp, fresh-shucked oysters, sushi and more in a 13,000-square-foot facility.
Paris Le Village
Five provinces of France are represented here, with an emphasis on stations with fresh ingredients and food that is cooked to order.
Treasure Island Dishes
The usual offerings are found, but the highlight is dessert. The full-service bakery includes the house specialty, corn pudding.