Lake Las Vegas Is a Golf Oasis

Wednesday February 21st, 2007
The strip beckons beyond the 12th hole at the Falls.
Erin O'Boyle

With its cobblestone palazzo, Pontevecchio bridge and evocatively named neighborhoods — Capri and Ravello, among others — Lake Las Vegas is what Italy could be if global warming ever reaches critical mass.

Conceived in the late 1970s by Alps-smitten developer Ron Boeddeker as a man-made Lake Como in the desert, Lake Las Vegas resort is certainly more nurture than nature. Without a majestic snow-capped mountain setting, Boeddeker settled for a stretch of parched earth 17 miles east of The Strip.

Despite its dreamed-up theme and proximity to the neon-saturated downtown area, this upscale resort is light years from Synth-City's image as the home of gaudy glitz and has an air of intimate sophistication that The Strip has lacked since Steve Wynn demolished the Desert Inn to make way for his latest megaproject.

The descent into McCarran International Airport from the east offers aerial views of this lush, 2,600-acre oasis. Lake Las Vegas comprises three golf courses and as many hotels, all anchored around the largest privately owned lake in Nevada. Two of the courses at this GOLF MAGAZINE Silver Medal resort — Jack Nicklaus's Reflection Bay and Tom Weiskopf's The Falls — are open to the public, while the third, the Nicklaus-designed SouthShore Golf Club, is private.

Opened in 1998, Reflection Bay ranks 36th on our most recent list of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play. Routed around arroyos, water hazards and the Hyatt Regency, it is a strategic masterpiece that demands three of its architect's celebrated attributes: a high fade, pinpoint accuracy and on-course smarts. Reflection Bay is a course to be managed, not conquered. See for yourself when the course hosts the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, broadcast on ABC December 18 and 19.

Fairways here are generous and the bunkering stern, but much of the course's bite comes around the greens. At the 528-yard fifth hole, a stream along the right encourages golfers to aim left, where par-killing bunkers await. The green is defended on the left by mini moguls; find them and you'll face a pitch to a green that is about as slick as the stepping stones you must navigate to cross the stream and reach the putting surface.

Five holes at Reflection Bay play along the lake. The seventh, a 452-yard par 4, calls for a carry of nearly 250 yards over a gulch that cuts the fairway as decisively as a seasoned blackjack dealer. Clear the hazard and it's a short approach to a waterfront green that gathers around a deep bunker. Place your bets.

The postcard hole is the 199-yard eighth, a peninsula par 3 with breathing room to the right and watery doom to the left. But the most enjoyable hole may be the 393-yard 10th, which on the scorecard looks like the blues and greens got switched. Yes, that small green strip is the fairway, smothered by water. Watching your approach sail over all that aqua is like watching your paycheck ride a roulette wheel — it's all or nothing.

If you need another reason to find your swing, your gallery at the 164-yard 17th, where the green juts dauntingly into the lake, might include Diva Las Vegas herself, Celine Dion, whose palace sits across the water.

Nicklaus always managed to best his fellow Ohio State alum Weiskopf during their days on the PGA Tour, and things are no different at Lake Las Vegas. Nicklaus benefited from the superior piece of property with Reflection Bay, while Weiskopf's blank canvas for The Falls, which opened in 2002, was little more than a rocky mountain and its barren foothills.

Weiskopf admittedly never lived up to his potential as a player, but he may have found his true talent in course design. He won high praise for his tracks at Troon North in Scottsdale, though Weiskopf was given more to work with there than at The Falls. Still, this course is not unlike its architect: often entertaining, sometimes exasperating, and always in danger of derailing into something just plain goofy.

The layout looks as if its roots owed more to dynamite than to fertilizer. The front nine plays down in the flats and could put you to sleep save for the seventh, a serpentine par 5 requiring a tee shot through a rock-walled alley and a delicate approach over an arroyo to a shallow green. This is not the place to gamble. Wait for your thrills on the back nine, an exhilarating ride that rises and falls like a stack of chips at the high rollers table.

The 12th climbs 553 yards, with a blind second shot over a hill on a line cinched by bunkers and boulders. Design purists and winded duffers quit pouting when they crest the hill and take in the sweeping views of the valley and The Strip. The Stratosphere Tower is the safe line on the approach; if the pin is back-left, aiming a fade at the pyramid-shaped Luxor casino is the golf equivalent of craps: big risk, big reward.

On the next hole, you might be looking for a gondola — not the touristy boat at the Venetian but a ski transport — to take you down the nosebleed-inducing drop at this 388-yard dogleg-right. Faders off the tee will find their uphill approach impeded by a large rock outcropping. Any attempt to bend one around the boulder requires exactly the kind of dumb luck on which Las Vegas was built and continues to thrive.

The 13th hole is a sucker bet, but Weiskopf throws golfers a bone at the 14th, a downhill 336-yard hole that's drivable and rated easiest on the course. Greenside water hazards (and level terrain) are back in play on the closing three holes, a par 3, 4 and 5 that get progressively easier — presumably to get those gambling juices flowing.

Lake Las Vegas is a half-hour drive from the Hoover Dam, which is less impressive in person than in pictures, and Lake Mead, where the water level is down more than 60 feet over the past few years.

That is an ominous sign considering the unrelenting growth of Las Vegas, to which an average of 1,500 people move each week. The drought is a hot topic, but the water shortage has not halted the resort's plans for a third public-access course, Tom Fazio's Rainbow Canyon. Timing is TBD, but work is under way. The local scuttlebutt says the new course will outshine Jack's track.

We'll see. Either way, the good news for golfers is that the addition of yet another heavyweight only makes Lake Las Vegas more of a favorite.

Reflection Bay and The Falls: Greens fees are $200-$220 for on-property hotel guests, $240-$260 for non-guests, includes cart, yardage guide, repair tool and a cooler. Call 877-698-4653 or visit lakelasvegas.com.

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