LAS VEGAS – In an expansive locker room seemingly the size of three basketball courts, I sat down to change shoes and when I stood back up again, I noticed the name on the plate of the door next to my stall – Michael Jordan, 23.
That renowned name shouldn’t have surprised me considering the multitudes of celebrities who have played Shadow Creek.
Just as impressive as the names that have played here are the ones who have been turned away because they weren’t staying at MGM Resorts International properties.
That list includes former U.S. Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers, so I was feeling somewhat special to be experiencing this as a guest of the new Aria at CityCenter on the Strip.
“If they play golf and they’re a celebrity, they’ve played out here,” said Shadow Creek general manager Mark Brenneman.
It’s little wonder that celebrity golfers would seek refuge in this oasis that transformed out of a desert wasteland outside of Vegas. Shadow Creek was not without its doubters, but hotel magnate Steve Wynn and designer Tom Fazio pulled it off by the time the course opened in 1989.
From the moment you drive up to Shadow Creek in a limousine, there’s a feeling of exclusivity.
“It’s sort of like Jurassic Park after the gate,” said Brenneman.
There is a wow effect after clearing the front gate as the tranquility delightfully contrasts the buzz on the Strip from which you’ve arrived.
Brenneman estimates there are about 30 rounds played on a typical day and about 10,000 put through in a year and even if Jordan or any other celebrity is out on the course at the same time, chances are good that you wouldn’t notice.
“You would never know it because you don’t see anybody. The holes are separated by valleys and trees on the mounding, so it’s meant to be an intimate experience shared by the group you’re with,” said Brenneman.
That experience is enhanced by elevation changes, gardens, waterfalls and the occasional glimpse of a swan or peacock on a 320-acre design that stretches from 6,626 yards to 7,560 at the tips, with its green ribbons offering a complement to the rugged mountains off in the distance.
Shadow Creek has no slope or course rating, so you can’t record a round there for handicap purposes and the rule is there are no rules, so just do what it takes to have fun including, in true Vegas tradition, partaking in a few high stakes bets along the way.
“People said there was no way this could be done. For Tom Fazio, this was the first time he was given, as a painter, a canvas. They said, `Here’s your canvas. You just fill in between the frame,” said Brenneman.
“Usually, there are real estate concerns for a golf course architect – `you can build here, you can’t build here, we want this view.’ Environmentally, he didn’t have any issues, Real estate, no issues. Cost was no issue,” he said.
“He showed a certain amount of restraint. The course is always right there in front of you, which is easy to say, but difficult to do. There are no blind shots. On the tee, you know this hole goes straight, you know this hole goes left, you know it bends right.
“There’s no question, It’s a question of whether or not you can (make the shot), which is a different story,” said Brenneman, adding that Fazio responded to a challenge that had the potential to backfire.
“You can also screw it up big time because if it doesn’t work, you can’t say, `I was handcuffed in any way, shape or form,’ and he wasn’t,” said Brenneman.
Shadow Creek was one of the three golf courses that we played just outside of Las Vegas, the exception being the Wynn course that plays alongside the unique skyline of the Strip. You can read about that experience here.
One of the courses we played was near Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, Nev., which is about half an hour from the Strip. Perhaps, it was the effects of the U.S. economy on Vegas and surrounding area, which is described in this story, but Lake Las Vegas seemed quieter than in previous visits.
Reflection Bay and The Falls, two courses that I had played on prior visits, were now closed and the Ritz-Carlton had also just closed before we arrived. While there is still optimism about a turnaround, what was a nice area for family vacations is now depressed.
The good news for golfers staying at the Loews is that the resort has struck a deal to get its guests on to nearby South Shore, a private Jack Nicklaus design that is the home course for LPGA Tour star and glamour girl Natalie Gulbis, who we were originally supposed to have lunch with, but that fell through.
The consolation was a day on South Shore, with generous fairways and considerable elevation changes. It’s solid throughout, but closes on a powerful note on the last three holes, a stretch dominated by forced carries over desert gullies that leave you remembering this course that runs close to 7,000 yards from the tips.
Like South Shore and Shadow Creek, Cascata is outside of Vegas, about 35 minutes from the Strip in Boulder City, Nev.
The huge Tuscan-style clubhouse offers a tranquil welcome, especially with the cascading stream that runs through it, but that was soon shattered as we hit a gaping fairway that was equally deceiving on the first hole.
It was a blustery day and I was wishing I’d brought a windshirt, but I played in just my golf shirt without getting overly cold or windburned. However, the wind wasn’t helping with many uphill landing areas off elevated tees on this pristine Rees Jones design.
You quickly discover there is very little flat land on this course that stretches between 5,591 and 7,137 yards at the tips.
I particularly got taken to school, as did many in my foursome, on the first green where I hit it below the hole, didn’t quite make it up the slope, then watched it skate back on the lightning fast surface past where I had originally made the first putt. Hence, the need for Sergio, our caddie.
After one word in particular popped out of my potty mouth on that green, Cascata became an enjoyable experience, serving up incredible vistas and contrasts between desert, mountains and the manicured playing surfaces that quite often dished our uneven lies.
If you plan to visit Vegas for the first time, it’s wise to see what’s available and at what price in order to fit it into your budget.
Not only are most of the golf course associated with hotels/casinos on the Strip, but many can cost as high as $500 to play. The best price I heard was that guests of Loews can get South Shore for $95 at various times throughout the year.
There is no denying the quality of the courses we played, however, and the added benefit of shows and outstanding restaurants along the Strip, not to mention a few games of chance on the side, are just complements to the golf product.
For more on the trip to Vegas, check out this blog.