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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

(continued from page 2)

Like Shadow Creek, Wynn is sunken into the landscape and manages to block out much of the sights and even some of the sounds of the surrounding city. The tourists clomping along the east side of the Strip don't get a glimpse of this $500-a-round haven. The 50-story Wynn Resort tower hovers above the property, its contemporary sleekness suggestive of a very large Zippo lighter. You must stay at Wynn to play at Wynn, and they take that requirement seriously.

Like Shadow Creek, there are perfectly green and manicured fairways, dramatic green complexes, creeks and waterfalls (you can drive underneath the one behind the 18th green), and plenty of trees, many of which were saved from the Desert Inn course. Like Shadow Creek, you get a very experienced caddie in uniform coveralls.

Unlike Shadow Creek, you don't get a full practice range. There is a lovely practice green and bunker complex, but for warm-up shots you have to hit from artificial mats (egads) into a net (good heavens). With the cost of land along the Strip, and the magnitude of Wynn's development ambitions, building a practice range on this precious acreage wasn't going to happen, and the course is a bit shoehorned as a par 70, though it does stretch 7,000 yards from the tips. But for absolute convenience in the center of everything, coupled with style and grace, Wynn is a value play.

Honorable Mention

Bali Hai
This will be a controversial choice. On the one hand, Bali Hai is off the end of the runways at McCarron International Airport and in full view of the Mandalay Bay, Luxor and New York-New York resorts. There's a feeling of tightness between the holes, and the South Pacific motif would be entirely out of character if this wasn't Las Vegas. It's what you might expect an upscale Strip golf course to be. Some like it, some don't. But there's really no denying it's a lot of fun, and quite possibly for the same reasons that its detractors find repugnant. There's a certain challenge to ducking underneath a 757 on takeoff.

It's an amusing course, this Bali Hai, without being an amusement-park course. It's 7,000 yards and has a good collection of par 4s from short to long, including three exceeding 480 yards from the tips. There is plenty of water, much of it surrounding the island-green par-3 16th hole. The clubhouse overlooks this lagoon and green and gives your buddies plenty of chances to harass you for water balls. This is a great place to play near sunset, when the lights of the Strip come alive. There's no practice range, only a net, but what the heck. Bali Hai is the work of Billy Walters, a local golf entrepreneur with a roster of other courses in the area, but none quite like this.

Bear's Best
Jack Nicklaus's other entry in Las Vegas is his replica course, Bear's Best, at the far end of Flamingo Road 11 miles west of the Strip. This is a collection of holes that Nicklaus has designed at courses throughout the west and in Los Cabos, Mexico, and is a sister property to Bear's Best in Atlanta. Some might be put off by all the construction going on around the course as the Vegas sprawl creeps into the mountains to the west, but taken hole by hole, Bear's Best stands up well.

The first hole, a par 4 around a lake, gets your attention. It's a re-creation of the sixth hole of Nicklaus's Private Course at PGA West at La Quinta, California. The fourth and 11th holes will get your attention if for nothing other than the black sand in the bunkers. These holes come from Nicklaus's Old Works Golf Club in Montana, which was built on an EPA Superfund site where a copper smeltery once stood; Nicklaus used black slag left from the smelting process for bunker sand. Golfers who have been to Los Cabos will likely recognize holes taken from the Cabo del Sol, El Dorado and Palmilla courses. The forced carries over broad sand washes distinguish these holes. Nicklaus has also re-created holes from his Desert Mountain courses in Scottsdale, Arizona, and one from his Castle Pines Golf Club in Colorado. There's a big, basic practice range off the back of the clubhouse where you can hit balls all day for about $20.

Paiute Golf Resort, Wolf Course
Like other tribes across the United States, the Paiute Indians are capitalizing on their land by building golf courses. The Paiutes also capitalized on one of the magical names in American golf design, Pete Dye. Bring Dye into any project and you are going to get a course that inspires wonder among players.

Dye has designed three courses at the Paiute Reservation, about 40 minutes from the center of the Strip to the northwest off Route 95. The reservation is just beyond the wave break of urban sprawl, and golf at Paiute has an appropriate sense of solitude, though with so many courses there also may be a lot of golfers, particularly conventioneers. On weekends, there can be a wedding party about.


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