LAS VEGAS -- You don't need to be a casino whale to be treated like a VIP in Sin City.
Just head to the golf course for a taste of the life of a millionaire.
Vegas, as we all know, goes wildly over the top when it comes to luxury. The best courses in town might put a dent in your wallet, but there's a reason Shadow Creek, Wynn Golf Club and Cascata cost up to $500. Superior service and amenities come with a certain price. So do impeccable course conditions and good caddies. If you want an exclusive experience that will impress your buddies or a client, these are the places to go.
I haven't played Shadow Creek Golf Club, the consensus No. 1 course in Las Vegas by all the major publications, but I can vouch for the Wynn Golf Club and Cascata Golf Club. The only people who argue that playing these courses isn't worth the money probably haven't seen them yet.
The wonders of Wynn
The wonders of the Wynn never cease once you step in the front door. It’s all right there, even the golf course. The Wynn Golf Club is all about convenience for its guests.
'We have such a great location,' Wynn Director of Golf Brian Hawthorne boasted. 'Just ride down the elevator, and you're at the first tee. We average rounds of 4 hours, 15 minutes. When you are done, it's back to the other experiences.'
Tom Fazio didn't have much room, just 137 acres, to create a memorable 7,042-yard course on the old Desert Inn site, but he delivered a manicured paradise of rolling green fairways and lush landscaping. The par 70 that opened in 2005 plays pure, like a classic country club. All 13 caddies are PGA Professionals. They know golf and could probably whip you by 10 strokes if you were looking for a bet. All five par 3s are strong, each with their own challenge. The $2 million waterfall behind the 18th green symbolizes the extravagant ways of Wynn.
'What Fazio did is impressive,' said Dean Rider, visiting from California. 'He created berms right and left. Whatever hole you are on, that's all you see. The old Desert Inn was flat and boring. Each hole now stands alone as its own experience.'
Back inside, the five-star Tower suites are the cream of the resort's 2,716 rooms. The spa garnered five-star status from the Forbes Travel Guide in 2012 for the third consecutive year. Between the 15 restaurants and the 111,000 square feet of casino space, there's plenty to see and do. My favorite meals on my visit were the shrimp and grits at the Wynn clubhouse and the steak at SW. There's even a Ferrari and Maserati dealership on site.
Treated like royalty at Caesars, Cascata
The biggest knock on playing golf at Cascata Golf Club -– managed by Caesars Entertainment Corp. -- is its distance from the Strip. It's a 22-mile, 40-minute drive to Boulder City.
I look at this issue from a glass half-full perspective. Cascata feels so special because of its stark, secluded setting in a serene world of cacti and mountains as far from the frenetic neon bling of the Strip as possible.
'When you are on property, you feel like miles from anything. You don't see other holes or other groups,' Cascata General Manager Charles Packard said.
Cascata has dropped its green fee to $375, and it can be had for $300 at off-peak times.
Once golfers arrive, they're greeted at the door of the lavish 37,000-square-foot Tuscan clubhouse by their caddie for the day. Inside, visitors get a visual shock right away, a waterfall flowing through the clubhouse. This 'cascata' -- an Italian word that translates to waterfall -- flows 417 feet from the top of a mountain and around the golf course to the clubhouse. It's the first sign why this Rees Jones design cost $70 million to build.
The course, which opened in 2000, dances up and down on 450 acres with more than 800 feet of elevation changes, zigzagging through rocky outcroppings some 3,200 feet above a desert valley. The views stretch for miles, and sometimes, it feels like your ball will fly that far off of elevated tees in the thin air.
The golf course plays difficult for first-timers. Thankfully, the caddies are well versed on some of the slickest, most confounding greens in the Southwest.
'There is a lot of risk-reward (at Cascata),' Packard said. '(Scoring) is about where you put the ball on the greens. It is user friendly.'
Cascata can humble even the biggest of egos. Fortunately, golfers can drown their sorrows at the Qua Baths & Spa back at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. Qua translates to 'here' in Italian. To be honest, a guest doesn't even need a treatment to feel like a billion bucks again.
The three Roman baths inside the locker rooms are reinvigorating enough. Ancient rituals call for three distinct mineral pools, each varying in temperature and size. The Tepidarium, filled with warm mineral-enriched waters, helps to restore natural elements of skin. The Caldarium features hot mineral-enriched waters to release tension and soothe muscles. The Frigidarium, filled with icy mineral waters, invigorates and detoxifies. Start in the Tepidarium pool and then alternate between the Caldarium and the Frigidarium for maximum effect. Sauna, steam and the Arctic ice rooms relieve more aches and pains.
Not that living in luxury in Las Vegas could ever be painful.