Courses and Travel

Walters Golf in Las Vegas reels in golfers with indelible images

Photo: Keiici Sato

The Bali Hai Golf Club offers a little bit of the South Pacific in the heart of Las Vegas.

In a town where fistfuls of Franklins can vanish in a heartbeat at the casinos, golfers still demand value for their money. Enter Billy Walters.

Walters — who is often called "Nevada's leading golf entrepreneur" — is a keen player, having won the Pro-Am portion of the PGA Tour's AT&T event at Pebble Beach this year with partner Fredrik Jacobson. So he understands what serious golfers want in a round of golf. But he also knows that in Las Vegas it's all about the experience.

This helps explain why the concierges at so many top Las Vegas hotels send guests to courses owned by Walters Golf. It's not just that the layouts are close to the Strip and offer challenging, distinctive designs. The bottom line is that each delivers an experience loaded with value. And, like no one else in Las Vegas, Walters Golf offers one-stop shopping for the traveling golfer.

If you're looking for affordable stay-and-play packages with great on-the-Strip hotels like Mandalay Bay and the MGM Grand, Walters operates Las Vegas Golf Getaways, which handles every detail of your vacation. Staying with family and just want to tee it up once? They can do that too, either through Las Vegas Golf Getaways or as Las Vegas Preferred Tee Times. Looking for a cure for your ailing swing? GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mike Davis is not only director of instruction for the Walters Golf Academy, he's one of the most patient, enthusiastic and skilled pros on the planet.

But the key ingredient to any great golf experience is the golf itself — and Walters doesn't disappoint. Of the three tracks currently under the Walters umbrella, Desert Pines — a Dye design that dates to 1996 — is the elder statesman. It was here that Walters unveiled his formula: Create a hook that gets people talking.

With Desert Pines the concept was to airlift the Carolina Sandhills to the desert. The result is a Pinehurst-by-the-Strip. Convenient both to downtown and to the major Strip hotels, Desert Pines boasts Donald Ross-style flat-bottom bunkers, water on nine holes and elevated, heaving greens that place a premium on precise approaches. However, it's the rows of pines that define fairway corridors and that separate one hole from the next that distinguishes this course from any other in the desert. Hardest to par on the 6,810-yard, par-71 course are the brutal bookend par-4s that close each nine, both nearly 470 yards. Overly faded approaches to the ninth will find water, while the same lake at the parallel 18th will snare the hook.

Two years after Desert Pines debuted, Walters altered the Vegas golf landscape with Royal Links. Crafted by Perry Dye, Royal Links dishes out 18 holes that pay homage to holes found on British Open courses. A plaque adorns each hole, so that you get a history lesson from start to finish. Admittedly, on 100-degree summer days, the resemblance to its U.K. counterparts is tenuous, but November through March, when the clouds gather and the breeze blows, you might gaze at the steep pot bunkers, railroad ties, and wispy rough grasses and utter an "aye, laddie," to your forecaddie.

This clever gimmick could have failed if Dye had just splashed an independent collection of all-star holes across the acreage, but instead, he chose some relatively obscure Open venue holes to balance the famous ones, thus forming a seamless fit. Unforgettable is the mimicry of icons such as Royal Troon's "Postage Stamp," expressed here as the 153-yard, par-3 8th and the "Road Hole," the 17th at St. Andrews' Old Course, which appears as Royal Links' 10th hole.

Yet, equally compelling are the quieter gems, such as the 621-yard, par-5 4th, a tribute to Royal Liverpool's 8th and the 466-yard 7th, a dead ringer for Royal St. George's No. 13. A skill-set adaptable for links golf is highly recommended, so it comes as no surprise that Tiger Woods is the course record-holder. His 5-under-par 67, set in February 2001, has held up so far on this 7,029-yard test. Also highly recommended is a post-round stop in the faux-castle clubhouse. Only the mountains in the backdrop shatter the illusion that you're across the Pond.

Walters' third entry on the Vegas scene is Bali Hai, the only 18-hole walk-right-up, public-access course on the Strip. Bali Hai embraces a tropical theme, a South Seas paradise rendering that serves up thousands of plants and flowers, towering palm trees, seven acres of water features and brilliant swatches of bright white sand that function as transition zones. Its proximity to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport makes it a perfect choice for an early arrival or getaway round, but it's always only a short cab ride away from the major Strip hotels.

Architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley weren't given an overabundance of land at Bali Hai, but they packed a ton of interesting shots into the compact setting and the incredible landscape plan took care of the rest. With at least a half-dozen shots backdropped by the gleaming glass of the adjacent Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Monte Carlo hotels, Bali Hai dazzles all day, but especially at sunset. However, the 7,002-yard, par-71 course offers plenty more than smoke and mirrors. You'll want to lug a full bag of balls out to the 208-yard, par-3 ninth and to the 141-yard, island green 16th, just to play them over and over. Of course, save a few minutes to linger at the clubhouse, which features not only Cili restaurant, but a pro shop voted one of the nation's 100 Best for the past six years.

The beauty of a Las Vegas golf experience is that it offers something for everybody-and it whisks you away from the spinning reels and clanking coins for at least a few hours. But even if you're leaving the casinos and shows for a few hours on the course, you still want that only-in-Vegas feeling. The three aces Walters Golf offers are about as close to a sure bet as you'll find in town.

For more information, contact 866-861-9765 or visit

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