These days, there are two things you can pretty much count on in Las Vegas: First, there are deals to be had, and second, the house will always win — eventually. That said, with this economy, there's never been a better time to strike it rich where value is concerned. So take advantage with a weekend jaunt. Here are my picks for the perfect Las Vegas three-day getaway.
We get our first golf game in this afternoon, on the day we arrive. Even if you're jetting in from the East Coast, you'll gain three hours, so it's no problem getting in with time enough to squeeze in 18. Complimentary limos have drivers waiting at the baggage claim to pick up High Rollers — and since it's my perfect weekend, that's how I'm going — but if that's not the profile you fit, it's an either/or on whether to take a cab or rent a car. The cab ride to a Strip hotel is short (10 minutes) and cheap (under $15). But if you're going to play more than one round of golf at outlying courses, you'll probably save money by renting a car instead of paying multiple huge cab fares.
First stop is the Bellagio, a 5 Diamond-rated MGM/Mirage property in the heart of the Strip that's fronted by an eight-acre lake. The lake comes complete with its own fountain, music and light show. Trust me, it's more tasteful than it sounds. We drop our bags off, as Vegas rooms are almost never ready until 3 p.m. or so, then head south on Las Vegas Boulevard for one gigantic city block. Our destination is the Wynn Golf Club at Wynn Las Vegas Resort, a lightly played venue due to its $500 price tag that's now open to outside play. We can buzz around this Tom Fazio extreme makeover of the old Desert Inn course in short order and have plenty of time to refresh for the evening activities.
Wynn's compact holes are cocooned by more than 15,000 pines and shrubs, and water features grace 11 of them, notably the par-3 15th, which is guarded by a wishbone-shaped stream and the par-4 18th, its putting surface backdropped by a 37-foot waterfall.
Dinner is Rao's, next door at Caesars Palace. A Vegas outpost of the legendary 11-table Harlem dining establishment, where reservations are nearly impossible, this Rao's replicates the Sopranos-like ambiance admirably — and it's a lot easier to get in. Uncle Vincent's Lemon Chicken or a veal chop parmesan served on the bone — with a side of Rao's meatballs — we're talking real Italian here.
If you've got the energy to see a show, stick with the Italian flavoring for a production of Jersey Boys, just down the road at the Palazzo, an excellent, new low-key all-suite hotel connected to, but separate from, the Venetian. Have a nightcap at Bellagio's Baccarat Bar, or for a more high-energy people-watching experience, at The Bank. What you do after that is your call — I'm going to get some sleep because I'm playing Shadow Creek in the morning.
It's still the coolest golf experience in town, so as long as you're staying at an MGM/Mirage property such as Bellagio, take the limousine for the 35-minute drive to North Las Vegas to tackle Tom Fazio's masterpiece of near-fantasy proportions. Imagine the flattest, dullest site possible, wave a wand and voila, a lush, rolling Florida/Carolina combo to blow your mind. Only the distant mountain views remind you you're in Vegas.
If you're bound and determined to experience desert golf, skip one of the first two wall-to-wall grass encounters and head to Boulder City for Cascata. Avid golfer Alice Cooper calls Rees Jones' engineering marvel "a great target course, with maybe the premier clubhouse in town." With its gourmet food and a river running through it, the clubhouse is in a league of its own. Keep it straight and the course is conquerable, with firm fast greens and run-up shots the norm, but stray and you're up with the Bighorn sheep on the rocky desert slopes that frame every fairway.
Fanatics on a golf mission that have extra daylight at hand should slot a round at Royal Links. I'm a history buff, so I always get a kick out of dueling with Perry Dye's homage to holes found on British Open rota courses, that come complete with history lessons on each tee.
If one Saturday round is plenty, go back and unwind in a private cabana at Bellagio's Mediterranean-themed pool, complete with waiter service from the Pool Bar. Liquid refreshment and, how shall we say it, people-watching, will hold me for an hour or two — but now I'm getting antsy, so it's off to the Sports Book at Mandalay Bay, another MGM/Mirage property down at the end of the Strip. No matter what time of year you're there, there's always something good to watch — and wager on — on a Saturday afternoon.
We'll come back to Saturday's dinner, but if you're still craving more golf, don't let a lack of daylight dissuade you. Angel Park, maybe 15-20 minutes from the Strip, doles out a range, a 12-hole, par-3 replica course called Cloud Nine and an 18-hole all-grass putting course — all three of which are lit for night play. Add a cocktail or three to the putting experience and you'll be amazed at how good you are — or how good you think you are.
If dinner's on tap, you've got to do a classic Vegas Steakhouse experience at least once. Trouble is, there are so many great choices, from chains to one-offs, it's hard to narrow down the choices — but hey, it's my perfect weekend, so I will. It's tough to beat "http://www.charliepalmer.com/Properties/CPSteak/LasVegas/" target="_blank">Charlie Palmer's at the Four Seasons, the always reliable Palm, at Caesars Palace, and there's plenty of chatter about Cut, Wolfgang Puck's new eatery at the Palazzo. But I'm staying put, downstairs at Bellagio, for Prime, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's brown-and-blue hued meat palace that looks out over Lake Bellagio.
There's plenty of poker and blackjack to plow through before the night is over, but if you're still show-prone, even after Jersey Boys, Las Vegas offers every flavor from Blue Man Group to Carrot Top. The best musical production show is LOVE, a Cirque du Soleil Beatles retrospective at the Mirage; for magic, stick with Penn & Teller at the Rio; for comedy, I'm always amused by George Wallace at the Flamingo; and for a headliner, I'll go with the classic rock stylings of Elton John at Caesars. Nonetheless, my favorite show is Cirque du Soleil's jaw-dropping, how-the-hell-did-they-do-that water fantasy, O, at Bellagio, so that's where you'll find me.
So you missed out on dinner to gamble and take in a show? Grand Lux Cafe at the Palazzo, the Cheesecake Factory's upscale sibling, is a late-night haven, serving up huge portions of comfort food like Yankee Pot Roast or Salisbury Steak with mushroom gravy at respectable prices in a great-looking locale.
Still hungry? The Sterling Sunday Brunch at Bally'sis as good as it gets. For less aggressive appetites, the House of Blues Sunday Gospel Brunch at Mandalay Bayinfuses food, music and spirituality in one tasty package. However, put your fork down, because it's time for one final round before we board the plane.
I'll do it at Bali Hai Golf Clubon the southern tip of the Strip, partially because it's a fun, eye-catching layout, and partially because it's so close to the airport, you can hit a flight attendant with your backswing. Barack Obama played a quick nine here while on the campaign trail, so you know it's tough to top it for convenience. Strong par-4s, eye-candy par-3s and the tropical theme of blindingly white bunkers, palm trees and water features form the resort appeal, while the gleaming backdrops of the pyramid-shaped Luxor and the Mandalay Bay beckon in an only-in-Vegas way.
Save time before your flight to sample Cili, Bali Hai's clubhouse restaurant, which for my money — not that I part with it often — is the best golf-attached dining experience in the country. With its American/Asian fusion cuisine and patios that overlook lagoons, you won't want to leave.
Spend a few more quarters at the airport — and say goodbye for now. If I've poured in a few birdies, it's been a perfect weekend.