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The Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino also saw golf as a major draw, and had architect Rees Jones design the Rio Secco Golf Club in the hills south of the city. The Rio sends its big-time players to Rio Secco, though the course may not be the principal attraction. What the Rio has that other hotel golf courses don't is Butch Harmon, the coach of Tiger Woods.
"In addition to his knowledge and his expertise, Butch is truly a nice guy and a real character," says Bill Hunt, the Rio's executive director of casino marketing. "It doesn't hurt that he's Tiger Woods's coach, but Butch's personality holds its own."
When Harmon isn't busy with his teaching academy at Rio Secco, the hotel books him for private lessons and private rounds with valuable customers. "We have to block times way in advance with him because of his commitments to Tiger and other players, and his golf school," said McBeath. "But we have guys who once they meet him just can't wait to go back." Those guys need to have a six-figure credit line or close to it.
You can buy a tee time at Rio Secco for as little as $200 if you're a guest at Rio or Harrah's; $250 if you're a guest at another hotel. But of course the big players don't pay a dime. The course probably loses money against the bottom line, but Hunt sees it as a valuable commodity. "As a casino amenity, it's absolutely a great thing to have," he says.
The Venetian hotel doesn't have its own course, but, like the Rio, its offers a special instructor to satisfy its best customers. "It's important to have some kind of golf amenity for both the domestic and Asian side of the business," says Brian Parrish, the vice president of marketing for the Venetian. "We have John Redmond, who is Paul Azinger's coach, who plays with our customers and helps build relationships with the hotel. He gives real solid, quality instruction and keeps a record of every player so he can pick up where they left off the last time he saw them."
The Venetian maintains a close relationship with the Walters Group golf courses in the area, including the new Bali Hai course. For the players with six-figure credit lines, the Venetian arranges three-day golf trips to Pebble Beach or clubs in the Los Angeles area. "Golf is something you need to round out your product offering," says Parrish. "You may lose customers if you can't offer them something special with golf."
Golf is a big hook in Las Vegas, helping hotels get their slice of the pie. But if you expect a freebie at Shadow Creek, or Park Place Entertainment's new Cascata, or a three-day golf trip to Pebble Beach, a high five-figure credit line might get you something, but six figures is pretty much a lock.
Seven figures? "Would you like the course emptied, sir?
Jeff Williams covers golf for Newsday.