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Desert Flower

Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

In the splendid early morning, the sun not yet fierce across the El Dorado Valley, a coyote and a crow play tag at the upper end of a practice range. A single golfer on the range, who has not yet hit a ball, waits to see how the game plays out. There is a stunning solitude, a palpable privacy.

That's Cascata, the new Holy Grail for high-rolling gamblers in Las Vegas.

The Cascata golf club clings to the side of a mountain within the limits of Boulder City, about 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. The complex was built at a cost of nearly $60 million for one reason: to attract big-time players to the casino-hotels owned by Park Place Entertainment. If you are a guest at Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, the Flamingo or the Las Vegas Hilton, and you carry around a credit line that pushes six figures, you can play at Cascata.

Greens fees? There aren't any. Menu prices? There aren't any. Personal service? It's there in abundance. Cascata is all about coddling the casino corporation's most important customers, all about attracting new clientele to Park Place Entertainment's hotels in Las Vegas. Golf and money are mutually attractive. Give your high-rolling customers with high handicaps a golf club to call their own, and you gain an edge over another casino.

That's what hotelier Steve Wynn did in the late 1980s when he built Shadow Creek, the original Holy Grail. This was Wynn's private domain, a sanctuary for the Mirage hotel's biggest gamblers and a few of Wynn's special friends. You can now buy a greens fee for $500 at Shadow Creek. The folks at Park Place Entertainment say that won't happen at Cascata. Just bring a large bankroll and your clubs, though clubs aren't absolutely necessary. They will loan you a set, or even give you a set if that bankroll is big enough.

"We were the only high-end property out here that didn't own its own golf course," says Scott LaPorta, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of PPE. "We would send our players to golf clubs like the TPC at Summerlin and buy their tee times. They would get some sort of special treatment there. But they were out of our control. We wanted a place where we could make them feel special every step of the way. We have that in Cascata."

Cascata was built for the MGM Grand hotel, but when the merger with Mirage Resorts took place last year, the new company needed to raise some cash. It already owned Shadow Creek. So PPE struck a deal with MGM Mirage to buy the golf course and some property in Atlantic City. It was a turnkey agreement, with MGM completing the course and then handing it over to PPE. Cascata opened for play last December.

Cascata is no less an engineering triumph than Shadow Creek, which is a mirage of a Northwest golf course planted in the desert floor. Golf course architect Rees Jones constructed Cascata's 18 holes and a practice facility out of the side of a mountain, a feat just a smidgen short of amazing. He found ways to route the course up and down the finger ridges that fall off the mountain; consequently, the course sprawls across 450 acres. His construction crew made its own topsoil on site. He designed a number of water features into the arid landscape. He ensured that the course was playable for all levels of players because high rollers often come with high handicaps.

Cigar Aficionado was the first publication allowed inside the gates of Cascata, to view the splendor that Jones created and to experience the personal ambience. As the limousine delivers you to the front door of the Tuscan-style clubhouse, members of the golf staff and the food and beverage staff greet you. When you step inside the clubhouse, you guess immediately how the club got its name. A 418-foot waterfall, which begins on the mountain in back of the practice range, flows through the center of the clubhouse. It's a spectacular introduction to a spectacular day.

Director of golf Dave Johnson, a veteran of nearly 25 years at the Desert Inn, will tell you all about the course. Food and beverage director Greg Poplewko may inquire about your food needs for the day, like lunch on the course, dinner in the clubhouse, snacks and drinks. He'll catalogue your food tastes in his computer database for your next visit. A visit to the locker room will find your name etched in pewter and affixed to your locker. Your golf cart will leave from an enclosed area of the clubhouse's lower level. You will hear the waterfall, the cascada streaming through the clubhouse.

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