Shadow Creek 'definitely a bucket list course'

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NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. – As the director of golf at the exclusive Shadow Creek Golf Club, Mark Brenneman has plenty of stories about the famous crowd who love the game – Jordan, Clinton, Bush, Clooney.

I heard a few of these tales during a recent visit to Shadow Creek, but I was asked not to share them. There aren’t many rules at this laid-back club, but the ‘What happens at Shadow Creek stays at Shadow Creek’ rule is a big one.

In a town filled with hype, glitz and glamour, Shadow Creek prefers to stay out of that limelight. Even after two decades, the club is still the place where casino high-rollers and other VIPs and celebrities come to escape.

 “I never know who’s going to walk in that door,” Brenneman said.

The coolest part about Shadow Creek isn’t necessarily playing the golf course, although Tom Fazio did work a few miracles to build the $60 million playground. Just getting inside the gates – and seeing who might be eating lunch on the veranda behind the understated clubhouse – is its biggest allure. There are days when only a handful of people tee it up.

“We are not about volume. We try to get the right people out here,” Brenneman said. “ … We are about creating memories.”

Shadow Creek, which opened in 1989 as the vision of casino mogul Steve Wynn, has always been shrouded in mystery and mystique. It never had a Website until MGM Resorts International took over in 2000. Its current site, www.shadowcreek.com, only offers pictures of five holes.

MGM keeps its exclusive vibe alive by charging the highest green fee in the country at $500 and demanding each golfer stay at an MGM property, such as Aria Resort & Casino or Bellagio. Even a former U.S. President and a sitting Canadian Prime Minister have been turned away because they were staying at rival casino hotels. 

Buying $25 tickets to the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, a charity pro-am, remains the only economical way to see this Sin City Shangri-La. Next year’s tournament will be April 3-6.

Those lucky enough to splurge on the playing experience are picked up at their hotel by limousine. The 20-minute ride through hardscrabble suburbia couldn’t be more surreal. That Fazio and Wynn, who is legally blind, could create such a modern marvel from a nondescript palate of desert remains mind-boggling.

Fazio’s maze of bubbling brooks, cascading waterfalls and towering trees appears so natural, although every fairway curve is contrived. No detail, down to the shape and colors of the trees and shrubs framing each green, was left to chance. A refurbishment five years ago stretched Shadow Creek to 7,500 yards. Dustin Johnson set the course record of 66 just days after his debacle in a bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

The beauty and serenity of the place, in many ways, justifies the cost.

“It was utopia, definitely a bucket list course,” said Kevin Kallister, a golfer from Peoria, Ill., who played the course a few days before me. “It was a great experience.”