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The Greatest Greens

Less than 20 years ago, first-rate Las Vegas courses were scant, but today the area boasts some of the country's best golf experiences
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

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Jack Nicklaus has designed two courses here, the public Reflection Bay and the private South Shore Country Club. There is a third course, The Falls, designed by Tom Weiskopf. It's Reflection Bay that you want to play, the host course of the Wendy's Three-Tour challenge. Reflection Bay is pure Nicklaus, taking advantage of every movement of the terrain, more than a mile of the lakefront and the vastness of the vistas.

The final four holes of the front nine speak to everything that is Reflection Bay. The sixth and seventh holes are long par 4s that tumble down the long slope toward the lake. From the sixth tee, particularly in the late afternoon, there's a sense that you're playing in a watercolor painting. The sixth and seventh are menaced by an arroyo running down the right side and cutting in front of you just when you don't want it to. The eighth and ninth are Florida holes, playing along the lake with plenty of white sand and palm trees. The back nine also ends along the lake with an intimidating par 3 and a reachable par 5. At the end of the day, Reflection Bay is a very fine golf experience, and at greens fees ranging from $160 to $295, it's a relative bargain-for Las Vegas.

Shadow Creek
The course that started it all still rules and is still a must-play. While Shadow Creek's total exclusivity has long since passed, the sense of privilege remains. You must stay at MGM Mirage properties to gain access, fork over the $500 greens fee and play from Monday through Thursday (VIP guests only on the weekend). But you get limousine service to the course, a caddie and a priceless rush of wonderment. It was the best golf course Steve Wynn's money could buy, and he got his money's worth.

From the moment your limo oozes through Shadow Creek's gate, you have left Las Vegas behind. The drive takes you northwest of the Strip, through the creeping sprawl of Las Vegas subdivisions and strip malls, and into a parch of desert that seems unlikely to contain anything except disagreeable critters. Then you see a massive tree hedge and know that you are approaching nirvana.

When your caddie meets you at the clubhouse entrance, it's impossible not to be struck by its understatement. Unlike Vegas, where every property announces itself with the subtlety of a space shuttle launch, Shadow Creek is pure serenity. The clubhouse is relatively small and unendingly comfortable. The domain-you will note by brass nameplates on the lockers-of Michael Jordan, President George Bush (Senior) and assorted touring pros. And now, you, treated like a member of the club.

The practice range at Shadow Creek is worth the price of admission. Beautifully arranged, it provides a preview to the course and a certain privacy. Small teeing areas separated by copses of trees allow a foursome to warm up together. It's also where the very adept caddies will get a sense of how you play and what you are capable of.

From the first hole, with the namesake Shadow Creek running down the left side, who wouldn't be astonished at what Wynn and Fazio have accomplished. Each hole, lined with berms and thick stands of trees, stands alone. Each hole is designed for playability and challenge, and vistas of the distant mountains. And Shadow Creek, a completely artificial recirculating brook, is your constant companion. If your passion for golf equals your passion for Texas Hold'em, go all in and play Shadow Creek.

Southern Highlands
The Southern Highlands Golf Club is a real private course (the emphasis on real) southwest of the Strip off Interstate 15, located in an upscale residential community where the size of the homes seems to mirror the size of the distant resorts. The course, a green-carpeted traditional layout, is a collaboration between the legendary and prolific architect Robert Trent Jones and his equally prolific son Bobby Jr. The proviso about playing Southern Highlands is that you need to hold some major standing with your casino host, who in turn needs to have some major standing at the club. You won't be able to just put up a greens fee here.

But let's say you do have such standing, and have an itch to play that your host can scratch. Southern Highlands is an excellent choice, ranked highly by Golf Digest in its private-club reviews, perfectly maintained with a lovely clubhouse and ubiquitous views of the Las Vegas Valley. It's also unmistakably a work of the Jones clan. The holes are big and burly, and there's plenty of water and sand. Speaking of the sand, the fairway bunkering at Southern Highlands is more penal than most, tending to be as deep as greenside bunkers. Since there is ample room to play around most of those bunker complexes, it's a good idea for high-handicap golfers to avoid them. If you've got some pull, then make some tracks for Southern Highlands.

Wynn Golf Club
After Steve Wynn's Mirage resorts were hostilely taken over, he embarked on a new venture on the Las Vegas Strip by taking over the old Desert Inn, ripping down its recently renovated buildings, tearing up its old golf course and putting $2.7 billion into a new resort and course, both of which he called Wynn. By bringing in Tom Fazio again, and sticking to his ideas about what a golf course should look and feel like, Wynn has created Shadow Creek South.

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