I've often wondered how the leisure class lives. Not that I'm wishing my four young children out of college yet, but what must it be like to have Saturdays free to drive golf balls instead of driving a soccer shuttle? Or to put 200,000 in the bank rather than 200,000 on the odometer? At least I finally got to taste the lush life in leisure's capital. Yes, I was assigned to write about high-roller golf in Las Vegas.
Swooped from the airport to The Strip in a Caesars Palace stretch limo, I shuffled agape into the Artemis Suite, one of Caesars' two massive pool villas, both of which are reserved strictly for VVIPs. Imagine 10,000 square feet; four bedrooms; eight-by-eight-foot Emperor beds; glistening marble; hydraulic, heated toilet seats that automatically lift and lower and keep your tushy toasty; a private indoor whirlpool graced by a statue of some kind of winged cat goddess; roses, lilies and orchids in arrangements bigger than my fourth grader; a dark wood paneled bar and billiard room; and a dining room table for 10-all to yourself. Did I mention the full-size golf simulator?
Even before I unpacked (politely declining my butler's offer to do so) I dug a couple of Bass Ales from the fridge and fired up Pebble Beach on the big screen. After playing 18 cyber holes there and nine more at the Old Course, I took a ridiculously long shower, then headed downstairs to dinner at Bradley Ogden, the first Vegas eatery to snare the James Beard Foundation's title of Best New Restaurant. Chef Bradley is a golfer, so I invited him to play Cascata the following morning. Shortly after downing the Maytag Blue Cheese Souffle appetizer, Triple Seared Kobe Beef Strip entree and Strawberry Soup with Lemon Beignets dessert, I waddled back to my Emperor bed.
The ancient Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is one of the seven wonders of the world. Had the golf world such a list, Cascata would be on it. Rees Jones's widely acclaimed but sparsely played treasure is so green and looks so natural that the desert appears to be imported. The invite-only policy was recently reclassified GWB (Guests With Bucks), a move that landed Cascata at No. 32 on our Top 100 Courses You Can Play (September 2004). The club now allows guests of Caesars' properties who can pony up the steep greens fees ($350 weekdays, $500 weekends). High rollers-and those pretending to be-are comped, which eased the sting of my losing $40 to Chef Bradley.
If Cascata is desert golf, albeit impossibly lush desert golf, then Shadow Creek is dessert golf. Simply put, it is among the sweetest golf experiences to be had. Guests of the MGM Mirage casinos (see sidebar below)-and credentialed poseurs-go gratis while prix fixe is $500 for paying guests. Purists can pooh-pooh Shadow Creek for being as whole cloth as, well, Las Vegas itself, but it is a strong test (No. 11 on our Top 100 You Can Play) and among the few courses that reward you with a round you won't soon shut up about.
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Strolling across the loggia past the reflecting pool we came to a crossroads: Shoot pool and have a pop in the Great Hall or melt into an easy chair and catch a flick in the theater-quality Screening Room. After much deliberation, Todd and I agreed we needed to eat more.
The walkway from the Mansion to the MGM Grand opens right onto chef Michael Mina's superb restaurant Nob Hill, but we opted to stay in the Mansion and patronize the private Estate Dining Room. The menu was the first I'd ever seen that doesn't bother to print prices. Looking back, it's best that I didn't know my yummy Shafer 2000 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon cost $28 a glass or I'd have needed a straw to sip it through a tight pucker. The curtain fell on our charade when we got the dinner bill: $412.60. At least it was cheaper than the golf.