Sin City is less sinful than it used to be — even the town’s old mantra of what happens here stays here has been reduced to a cutesy commercial tagline. But golfers looking for an illicit high still can find some action. Staying in one of MGM Mirage’s 37,000 hotel rooms gets you through the gate of the most famous — and formerly the most exclusive — course in town.
Shadow Creek Golf Club
7,239 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $500
Shadow Creek is golf’s Brigadoon — a mythical place that precious few have actually laid eyes on. There are two reasons for this: For years it was open only to high rollers at Steve Wynn’s Mirage casino, and even now — when the course is open to guests at all MGM Mirage properties — the fee is a high-rollin’ $500. But despite its infamous $40 million price tag — in 1989 dollars — Shadow Creek is no typically gaudy totem of Synthetic City.
True, the course offers not a hint of the surrounding desert. (The only sand you’ll see is in the bunkers.) Instead, Tom Fazio’s design conjures a Carolinas feel with treelined corridors and more rises and falls than a novice’s chip stack. But what you get for your five notes is one fine hole built upon another until you reach a show-stopping finale at Nos. 17 and 18.
The strong holes actually begin at the fourth, an eye-catching par 5 that curls around a lake, followed by a 206-yard par 3 at which your tee shot is played across the roof of a mini-forest. One interesting quirk here: The course has no UGSA handicap or slope rating because it’s designed to be a match-play track. This is Vegas, after all, home of the $1 million Nassau.
It’s easy to dismiss Shadow Creek as a mere feat of engineering, a symbol of what you can do with flat desert if you have an unlimited bankroll. It’s surely that, but much more as well. Perhaps the best tribute to Shadow Creek is that the finest course in Las Vegas — one designed as a playground for the town’s biggest bettors and still the pinnacle of glitter-speckled golf — makes you forget where you are. It’s simply great golf. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
Bali Hai Golf Club
7,002 yards, par 71;
Greens fee: $245-$295
Located right on the Strip in the shadow of the Mandalay Bay casino, Bali Hai is known for its South Seas feel and Augusta white-sand bunkers. Designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley in 2000, it’s a tropical test of accuracy. If you want a quick 18 before dashing back to the tables, there is no better location. Bali Hai is operated by Walters Golf, which has an affiliation with the MGM Mirage to ease passage for resort guests onto its four courses.
Primm Valley Golf Club
Lakes Course: 6,945 yards, par 71;
Desert Course: 7,131 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $135-$175 ($95-$135 for guests of Primm Valley Casino)
This MGM Mirage-owned property is 40 minutes south of the Strip along Interstate 15, about one mile over the California border, and features two Tom Fazio designed courses.
The Desert Course here is one of the more enjoyable outings in the Vegas area. There are only a few memorable holes, but it’s a solid test that won’t sour your mood before you risk the kids’ college fund on no-limit hold ’em.
The lush Lakes course opened to widespread acclaim in 1997. The layout is littered with water hazards and sports more trees than seems reasonable this side of Shadow Creek. Beware who you get paired with on the first tee here; there’s often a “mega pot” outing at Primm and getting caught in that might be the biggest hazard here.
The Card Wrecker
Shadow Creek No. 17, 164 yards, par 3
A gambler’s dream–and a high-handicappers nightmare: It’s all carry across a pond to a green that looks smaller than a blackjack table.
Tom Fazio on how to play it “After you get over the view, the most difficult part is picking the right club. The shot requires no more than an 8-iron, but you could go all the way down to a 4-iron if you’re a high-handicapper. You won’t know until the ball lands. Don’t be short because you’ll end up in the lake, but if you’re too long it will ruin your card.”
Where to eat
- [LIST “Mix atop THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is superstar chef Alain Ducasse’s Las Vegas highlight. Feast on white truffle dishes on the outdoor terrace 64 stories above the Strip. 877-632-7800, mandalaybay.com“] [LIST “Sensi is located at the Bellagio and combines Italian and Asian cuisine. 877-234-6358, bellagio.com“] [LIST “The Michelin star-winning French chef Joel Robuchon has landed in Vegas at the MGM Grand. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon serves up stylish French cuisine, 702-891-7358, mgmgrand.com“] [LIST “Cirque du Soleil has two of the most engaging acrobatic shows ever mounted. O takes place in a massive water tank at the Bellagio, while Ka at the MGM Grand will have you spending most of the show wondering how much the astonishing hydraulics cost. You don’t need to be traveling with kids to enjoy these shows.”] [LIST “If you want to get up close and personal with the stars of the World Poker Tour, the best bet is the poker pit at the Bellagio, where stars like Phil Ivey and Chip Reese ply their trade. Just remember the golden rule from the movie Rounders — if you don’t spot the sucker at the table within 30 minutes, it’s you.”]
Where to Stay
- [LIST “MGM-Mirage can claim the best-known resorts on the Strip, including the MGM Grand, the Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Monte Carlo, Treasure Island and New York, New York. Staying at any one of these properties will get you access to Shadow Creek Golf Club. Reservations at any of these properties — and information on their many promotions — can be obtained through mgm-mirage.com.”] [LIST “For the ultimate high rollers’ experience, Skylofts at the MGM Grandis the way to go. These duplex penthouses come with a butler, limousine service and a free bar — three elements that make you feel like a player. One-bedroom lofts range from $800 to $500 per night. 877-880-0880, skyloftsmgmgrand.com“] [LIST “Primm Valley Casino Resort’s Spring Golf package gets you one night’s accomodation and one round for $145 single occupancy ($125 double occupancy) through May 6. Rates increase to between $150 and $185 for weekend stays. To book a package call 800-FUN-STOP.”]
When to go
If your golden rule is not to play golf when the temperatures exceed your worst-ever score, abandon it here. In the summer, hotel and golf fees are often a fraction of the usual rate. You can only play one round per day — teeing off in the early morning- — but your vacation will cost a lot less.