LAS VEGAS — It runs like an old black-and-white movie in my mind. It was the late 1950s. Waves of mirage heat rolled over the asphalt, and a ribbon of hotels, casinos and neon appeared.
It was the Las Vegas Strip.
My brothers and I pressed our faces to the casino windows–cupped hands, shielding the pulsar-bright summer sunshine—kids weren’t allowed inside, and it was a mystery unsolved until adulthood.
The Las Vegas Strip today is full-color, an upgraded glitz of neon—more like PS4, not the unpolished 16 mm film I first saw from a turquoise Buick Roadmaster.
Today, you don’t have to visit for Texas hold ‘em. You can play golf or experience fine dining or elevate yourself for some outstanding views. Or even watch your kids play with the remote control that opens and closes the shades in your corner suite at the Aria Resort & Casino.
Flash — was that Elvis?
Almost on a daily basis things happen in a flash – a celebrity sighting – sharing an elevator ride with Dr. J or spotting a professional golfer being tutored by Butch Harmon at Rio Secco Golf Club. Could that be Natalie Gulbis?
Down the eighth fairway two recognizable specks appear and golfers having lunch stop, exit their tables, take their drinks out to the patio and observe Harmon work with a former pupil named Phil Mickelson. From the patio deck of Janelas Restaurant these celebrity watchers can see the seventh, eighth and ninth holes.
On the 566-yard par five Mickelson has hit a high cut into the wind about 300 yards past a corner bunker. He makes birdie.
“The crowd that gathered was awe-struck witnessing how far and how flush he hit the ball,” recalled Cascata general manager Charles Packard, formerly at Rio Secco. “It was impressive.”
Today in Las Vegas The Rat Pack and Elvis are far-flung memories but this is surely a city that changes on a daily basis.
The weather in Las Vegas reminds me of West Texas. It can be perfect year around, but you never know when it will be too hot or too windy or even sleeting. In the summer the desert heat bakes the irrigated golf courses and green fees get very affordable. But it can be Christmas Day and 70 degrees with no wind.
Here are some selections you might consider:
Bear’s Best Las Vegas
What do you get when Jack Nicklaus hand picks 18 of his favorite holes from 270 designs worldwide and puts them in one location? You have Bear’s Best Las Vegas, a high-end daily fee golf course rolling out to 7,194 difficult yards.
Manicured bent grass greens, lush fairways, tons of sand and tricky green complexes will greet you along with state-of-the art GPS on the carts.
Watch for the black coal slag bunkers from Nicklaus’ Old Works in Montana along with the first hole at Castle Pines in Colorado. Other courses included are PGA West Tournament Course (California), Cabo Del Sol (Mexico), Desert Highlands (Arizona), La Paloma (Arizona), Las Campanas (New Mexico), Palmilla Golf Club (Mexico) along with arroyo holes and a view of the Las Vegas Strip.
Rio Secco Golf Club
Rio Secco, home to the Butch Harmon School of Golf (ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 50 Greatest Teachers at one time), is an desirable start to a golf trip to Vegas.
Play is fast and firm on this Rees Jones’ 7,332-yard, par-72, with quick and undulating greens. There are six broad desert holes, six plateau holes, and six diving into a steep canyon. This landscape rolls across 240 acres of rocky scenery, perched 800 feet above the Las Vegas Valley.
Bali Hai Golf Club
The vintage “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is just a minute away on The Strip from Bali Hai Golf Club, which 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. Out-of-play areas are accented with Augusta white sand and black volcanic rock.
The par-71 course measures 7,002 yards from the tips and opens up views of Mandalay Bay and the Luxor pyramid and other hotels on The Strip.
Bali Hai’s No. 16 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.”
TPC at Las Vegas
Bobby Weed and Raymond Floyd designed TPC at Las Vegas, formerly named TPC at The Canyons, this par-71, 7,063-yard adventure. With a panorama of Red Rock Canyon, this course is brawny and tawny, and an Arizona-like desert golf course you will have to think your way around. It requires shots over canyons, rocky arroyos, and has elevation changes.
No. 12, a 145-yard par-3, shoots to a canyon mesa island green. It is followed by a 423-yard, par-four thirteenth, called “Death Valley.” It has a blind tee shot and arroyo trouble the length of the hole.
Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort
The Paiute Tribe imagined large 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 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 is the original course 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 wraps itself around a lake.
The 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 courses, 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 and Country Club
When you visit Las Vegas you gotta splurge on one decadent round of golf. Wynn’s rack rate is $500 – but that includes bunches of extras like country club locker room amenities and attendants, no-charge rental club, shoes, and available caddies.
Wynn Golf Club, a Tom Fazio design, 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 like Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and the Rat Pack.
Wynn is compact in acreage – a par-70 course is 7,042 yards in length with Tifway II Hybrid Bermuda grass on the fairways and tees, and its’ Pennlinks Bentgrass.
The old Desert Inn GC was flat, but the renovation included moving 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, some more than 50 years old and over 60 feet tall.
Where to stay
On your golf trip to Las Vegas be sure and stay at Aria Resort & Casino. It is the height of luxury. Book a corner suite with 950 square feet, 1.5 bathrooms, tub with a view and lights and shades work by remote control.
Where to dine
My favorites are many but include Triple George Grill, Rivea at Delano, Yardbird at the Venetian, Della’s Kitchen at Delano, Guy Fieri’s Las Vegas Kitchen and Bar inside The LINQ, plus drinks and cigars at Andre’s Cigar & Cognac Lounge inside Monte Carlo. The Cili restaurant inside Bali Hai’s clubhouse has an awesome menu.
Las Vegas’ best views
No doubt the High Roller, the world highest observation wheel, has pods that hold 40 persons and goes 550 feet in the air. Views are also stunning from the Skyfall Lounge at Delano. The Grand Canyon helicopter tour by Papillon Helicopters in Boulder City is a never forget adventure.
Las Vegas’ future star attraction?
Mat Franco is an American magician (sleight of hand) and the winner of the ninth season of America’s Got Talent. Franco rose above tens of thousands of acts to become the first and only magician in history to win AGT, including the $1 million prize. See him at The LINQ Hotel and Casino.
Las Vegas has come light years since the late 1950s. But 2015 is fun for everyone and visitors come from all corners of this planet. Out of this world? You “bet”.
Story by David R. Holland