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Las Vegas Stories

A Secret Golf Course, The World Series of Poker and a Lesson 007 Should Learn
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

Suites the size of supermarkets, hostesses worthy of a Playboy centerfold, corporate jets, limos, show tickets, gourmet food and wine--for the highest of Las Vegas rollers, these are the typical perks. But of all the lavish "comps" heavy gamblers receive from grateful casinos, none may be more cherished than an invitation to Shadow Creek.

It's the greatest golf course in the world you'll (probably) never play.

You cannot pay a green's fee. You cannot bribe the starter. You cannot be pals with the head pro. There are only three ways to get on Shadow Creek: be a close, personal friend of Steve Wynn, CEO of the Mirage; be a close, personal friend of Bobby Baldwin, president of the Mirage; or have something like a $1 million line of credit--and a penchant for gambling with it--at the Mirage. Monster bettors who play in the neighborhood of $500 a hand for eight hours a day might make the cut.

When Alan Feldman, who manages the casino's public relations, was approached about the possibility of a story on Shadow Creek, he said absolutely, unequivocally, no. "We just turned down a four-page spread in Sports Illustrated. We don't need and we don't want the publicity," he said. "It just makes more people want to play the course. And if they're the kind of people who might be qualified, we probably already know about them."

Exclusivity is clearly one of the charms of fine country clubs. But never in the history of golf has there been a club as exclusive as this. Shadow Creek, set in a remote, underdeveloped stretch of north Las Vegas, is invisible from the road and virtually impossible to find without detailed directions. A tall, unmarked gate at the end of a cul de sac is the only physical sign of the desert's lushest oasis.

"Walking through that gate is like entering the Land of Oz," according to one lucky hacker who has actually played Shadow Creek. "Everything goes from black and white to Technicolor. It feels as though you've wandered into some sort of bird sanctuary. There are thousands of them: quail, pheasants, flamingos, chuckers and snow-white swans. They have a wallaby, too. The place really is like a mirage."

Because so few people have ever seen the course, let alone played it, rumors about Shadow Creek abound: around Las Vegas it is widely believed that Shadow Creek cost $30 million to $40 million to construct, that Steve Wynn bamboozled his shareholders into building what amounts to a private playground, that either Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson (depending upon whom you ask) is building a home on the course. Golf Digest certainly has bought into the mystique. In the magazine's listing of golf courses last year, Shadow Creek was ranked eighth in America. That only stepped up the noise level about the course, with torrents of criticism decrying the lofty ranking of a golf course that few can play.

After talking to two men who have played the course a total of six times, both of whom requested anonymity, I learned that the rumors are probably just that. "Shadow Creek isn't as mysterious as everyone thinks," the men agreed. "But it's even more spectacular than you could imagine."

An attendant greets guests at the gate in a Rolls-Royce of a golf cart, accented with crushed-velvet seats and equipped with a built-in cooler stocked with the beverage of your choice, including, if you are so inclined, Champagne and caviar. Driving slowly to avoid the wildlife, golfers are chauffeured to the practice tee, where, instead of unsightly, red-striped range balls, they may work out their slices on an unlimited supply of brand-new Titleists.

Guests do not have to fret over missing their tee time, says one source who has played Shadow Creek four times. He saw only one gambler-cum-golfer on the course. By his estimate a maximum of eight, maybe 10, people play the course in a day. (The premier municipal course in Los Angeles, Rancho Park, sees 300 duffers on an average day.) Indeed, by his recollection, there are about six or seven course-maintenance employees per golfer. "You never see another player; you never see another cart; you never see another divot. It's like playing golf in your own little world. You have complete privacy. The only ones watching you are all the birds."

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