It wasn’t until the third hole that I began to understand the significance of this sunny and crisp October day, which marked the grand reopening of the iconic Wynn Golf Club on the Las Vegas Strip.
Veteran PGA Pro David Barnhart had caddied hundreds of rounds for high rollers, celebrities and hackers like me, and he’d played some of the best courses in the world. But as my foursome stood on the tee box of the 515-yard, par 5 third hole, Barnhart could no longer hold in his emotions.
“I’ve never been this nervous before on a golf course,” he said. “I’ve been waiting so long for this day. I can’t believe it’s finally here.”
Nearly two years after it was shuttered, with an uncertain and potentially dire future, the Wynn Golf Club has reemerged. And it’s better than ever, with eight brand new holes, 10 revamped holes and a completely different experience. The 6,722-yard, par-70 course, designed by Tom Fazio and his son Logan, is actually about 300 yards shorter than the version that debuted in 2005, also designed by Fazio.
But it’s a lot more interesting and entertaining, featuring spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip skyline on nearly every hole and it finishes with a dramatic 249-yard par-3 finishing hole over a lagoon with a stunning 35-foot-tall waterfall behind an elevated green that slopes toward the water.
“We went from being a flat, narrow golf course to being a rolling, elevated, framed setting,” Fazio said. “It’s now a totally different environment.”
After sitting untouched for a year, Fazio and his team took only nine months to transform the Wynn, which originally opened as the Desert Inn Golf Club in 1952. The process involved relocating more than 400,000 cubic yards of earth and 300 trees to create wider landing areas, contours, elevation changes and larger greens.
Fazio seemed somewhat surprised that he and his son were given a second chance at shaping a course on such a precious property.
“The site is perfect; usually golf courses do not exist in such a perfect, expensive location,” he said.
There is however a heavy price to pay for playing a round of golf in the backyard of the Wynn Resort, which is one of the country’s more valuable 129-acre plots of land. The green fees are $550. At least there are a bevy of amenities included in that $550 green fee, complimentary Callaway loaner clubs, full-service locker rooms, warm-up balls at nine hitting bays, a well-stocked golf cart with sports drinks and water and a professional forecaddie, which could easily be a PGA Pro like Barnhart.
As one of the lucky ones who had the chance to play on opening day, I played 18 holes in just over four hours. Brian Hawthorne, the Wynn’s executive director of golf operations, quipped that $550 for a round of golf might actually be a bargain to some.
“If you keep somebody from gambling for four and a half hours,” he said. “We might be saving people money.”
The two-year hiatus, media buzz and pleasant fall temperatures will almost certainly make a Wynn tee time hard to obtain for the first several months. But golfers with a room reservation at Wynn Las Vegas, or the nearby Encore, have a distinct advantage. They can they can book their tee times 90 days out, non-resort guests may reserve times 30 days out.
Golfers who might wonder if playing golf in the middle of Las Vegas is distracting, intimidating or confining, needn’t worry. The pristine fairways are fairly generous–I’m a 20-handicap and I didn’t lose a ball from the back tees until my tee shot on No. 18 plopped in the lagoon. The par 3s will test your hybrid game, half of them measure over 200 yards from the back tees. But the 147-yard 5th hole plays downhill and 7th hole is only 157 yards, though water is in play on both holes.
The greens are slick, but true and there are sideboards on nearly every hole that redirect wayward approaches onto the putting surface. Though you’re surrounded by towering hotels, convention center construction and a monorail, you don’t feel crowded at the Wynn the way you do at many expensive resort courses where you’re fearful of blasting a tee shot off a townhouse or eavesdropping on someone’s private backyard conversation.
It’s not often you’re able to stay at a luxury hotel, hop on an elevator and stroll down a hallway that opens up to one of the finest resort courses in the United States. So don’t mind the exorbitant greens fee, take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, running the table for four hours at the Wynn Golf Club.
Story By Dave McKibben