Roll the dice: A Las Vegas vacation is not complete without golf

By Travel ArticlesNovember 21, 2012, 5:00 am

LAS VEGAS -- It happens in a flash, almost on a daily basis in celebrity-rich Las Vegas.

One minute you are unsuspecting, doing your rubber necking tourist thing. The next moment someone gets spotted. Even celebrities of the golf world can be victims.

Way down the eighth fairway two familiar specks appear and golfers having lunch stop, leave their tables, take their drinks out to the patio and watch Butch Harmon tutor a world-ranked golfer named Phil Mickelson. This time the scene is played out from Janelas Restaurant at Rio Secco Golf Club, where the seventh, eighth and ninth holes are within veranda view.

Mickelson has hit a high cut into the wind about 300 yards past a corner bunker on the 566-yard par 5. He makes birdie.

'The crowd that gathered was awe-struck witnessing how far and how flush he hit the ball,' recalled Charles Packard, formerly the head professional at Rio Secco. 'It was impressive.'

Impressive might also describe another gallery-like day at Rio Secco when Harmon's former pupil, Tiger Woods, set the course record of 64 just a week before his wire-to-wire, 15-stroke U.S. Open victory in 2000 at Pebble Beach. Tiger opened the day on the 10th, a 378-yard par 4, by holing his second shot from the fairway for an eagle.

These days your golf vacation to Las Vegas may never realize such celebrity-sighting stories to pass on -- The Rat Pack and Elvis are but distant memories. But you won't forget a visit to the city that is forever changing.

My family certainly remembers our first visit to Sin City. It was 1955, and the vision runs like an old black-and-white movie in my mind. Waves of mirage heat rolled over the asphalt, and a ribbon of hotels, casinos and colorful lights appeared. That Las Vegas Strip was nothing like today's full-color, upgraded glitz of carnival neon -- more like Xbox 360 or Apple's iPhone -- not the unpolished 16 mm film I first saw from a now-classic turquoise Buick Roadmaster. Golf never entered my mind.

Desert heat bakes today's irrigated golf courses in summer, when fees take a dip lower, but the game can be played all year. Weather reminds me of West Texas -- too hot, too cold, too windy -- but the golf courses are sculpted spectacularly and desert-rugged. In winter you can tee it up one day in snow showers and enjoy the rest of the week in 70-degree windless sunshine. You can be spoiled with $500 rounds at Cascata, Shadow Creek and Wynn Golf Club, or you can pay a lot less for numerous scenic layouts.

Here are some Las Vegas golf courses you might consider:

Rio Secco Golf Club

Rio Secco Golf Club, home to the Butch Harmon School of Golf (he's ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest's list of America's 50 Greatest Teachers), is an enviable start to a golf trip to Vegas, not only because it teams with Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, but it's the sister course to Cascata. Both are Rees Jones designs.

Play is fast and firm on this 7,332-yard par 72, with quick and undulating greens and six broad desert holes, six plateau holes and six diving into a steep canyon. This landscape rolls across 240 acres of craggy scenery, perched 800 feet above the Las Vegas Valley.

TPC Las Vegas

Formerly named TPC at The Canyons, this par-71, 7,063-yard adventure was designed by Raymond Floyd and Bobby Weed. TPC at Las Vegas is brawny and tawny, has striking views of Red Rock Canyon and was co-host to the PGA Tour's Open.

This is an Arizona-like desert golf course you will have to think your way around. It traverses canyons, rocky arroyos and has elevation changes.

The 12th hole -- a 145-yard par 3 -- plays to a canyon mesa island green. It is followed by a 423-yard, par-4 13th, called 'Death Valley.' It has a blind tee shot and arroyo trouble the length of the hole.

Bali Hai Golf Club

Just a minute from the vintage, famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign on The Strip, Bali Hai Golf Club was built to recreate a tropical, Indonesian land of golf fun.

Designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley in 2000, Bali Hai is a lush seven acres of water and palm trees. It totals 4,000 trees with 2,500 stands of towering palms and 100,000 tropical plants. Transition and out-of-play areas are accented with Augusta white sand and black volcanic rock outcroppings.

The par-71 course measures 7,002 yards from the tips and opens up views of the Luxor pyramid and other hotels on The Strip.

Bali Hai's 16th is a a par-3 island green that frequently comes with an audience from the Cili Restaurant patio, and the third hole, which is a 468-yard par 4 with a creek running the entire right-side. Some call this hole 'Shipwreck.'

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort

The Paiute Tribe thought big when imaging this complex that includes 54 holes of desert golf and lush conditions. The Resort is 25 minutes from the strip, and stars with its boondocks location. Golfers enjoy the only Pete Dye-designed golf courses in Nevada.

Select the Wolf, Sun Mountain, or Snow Mountain Courses, as well as some widely varied golf that includes water features, rolling terrain, and rugged mountain vistas.

Snow Mountain Course is the original at Paiute, and according to some, it's still the best. The 7,164-yard course features a progressive layout with wide rye grass fairways, traditional Dye railroad tie-decorated bunkers and dogleg finishing holes. Water plays on seven of the holes at Snow, from a peninsula green on the 16th hole to an 18th hole that seems to wrap itself around a lake.

Paiute's Sun Mountain Course is tamer, they say, and considered a 'kinder, gentler' Pete Dye course. Golfers will be by the natural rolling terrain, the course's isolated location within the resort and the mountain backdrop. Easily the most scenic of the three courses, Sun features blue lakes and Joshua trees.

The Wolf Course is the most difficult of the three, as well as the longest course in Nevada at 7,604 yards. Swales, bunkers, arroyos and undulating greens test you along with the fairways. The par-3 15th hole is an island green where half the challenge is simply getting on the green.

Wynn Golf Club

When you visit Las Vegas, you gotta splurge on one decadent round of golf. Wynn Golf Club's rack rate is $500 -- but that includes bunches of extras such as country club locker room amenities and attendants, no-charge rental clubs, shoes and forecaddies -- all included.

Wynn Golf Club occupies the land that was once the storied Desert Inn Golf Club. When it operated from 1952 until 2002 every celebrity golfer walked these fairways -- entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and the Rat Pack.

Construction on Wynn Golf Club began on Feb. 11, 2003. The first day of operation for Wynn Golf Club was opening day of Wynn Las Vegas, April 28, 2005.

Wynn, a Tom Fazio design, is compact in acreage -- a par-70 course that is 7,042 yards in length with Tifway II Hybrid Bermuda grass on the fairways and tees.

Taking completely flat terrain, they moved more than 800,000 cubic yards of earth to create the elevation changes and a rolling landscape that includes 100,000 new shrubs to the 1,200 existing trees that were salvaged and relocated from the former Desert Inn Golf Course, some more than 50 years old and more than 60 feet tall.

Where to stay

On your golf trip to Las Vegas be sure and stay at Caesar's Palace. Request the resort's brand-new Octavius Tower, a 668-room hotel. It has a private entrance and easy access to the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis and Gardens.

The Octavius Tower, with 550-square foot rooms, marks a major milestone in the two-year renaissance of Caesars Palace, which began in March 2011 with the return of Celine Dion and encompasses the recent launch of Rod Stewart at the Colosseum.

Other projects also include the return of Elton John, Old Homestead Steakhouse, Nobu Hotel, Restaurant and Lounge and Shania Twain's Colosseum headlining.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”