LAS VEGAS — From the casinos sprouting out of the desert floor to my two-block, tourism authority-sponsored limo ride to the notion that anyone needs to eat steak and dessert every night, Vegas is about suspension of disbelief. It's about living for the moment, submitting to the bucket list, and, by any means necessary, forgetting about the cost. Vegas golf is about these things, too, and it's done very, very well, as long as you can simply relax and let it ride.
Although it's not the most jaw-dropping or memorable of the courses I played, Wynn Golf Club may be the most artfully done. Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn prove that with enough money and vision, anything is possible. They've created a 7,042-yard, par-70 sanctuary with natural looking greenery and water features on the Las Vegas Strip. The effect is to insulate the golfer from the hustle and noise of Vegas commerce even while he plays in its midst-a neat trick.
The most memorable hole is no doubt 18, which is framed by a very large waterfall behind a green that is guarded by a large, front-left pond. On the subject of special effects, my room at the Wynn had automatic curtains, which for some reason made me feel like Tom Cruise coming down the escalator in Rain Man. (Alas, I was light one Dustin Hoffman sidekick and did not bring down the house.)
If you're into one-stop shopping for your high-end golf travel — the stay to the play, the casino to the restaurants, and yes, the shopping — Wynn is it.
Cascata (14th hole, above) offers an even greater remove from the Strip because it's 30 minutes away. With holes set amid the ancient canyon walls and streambeds, and greens that roll perfectly true, the Rees Jones course with the river that runs through the largely glass clubhouse is a great play. Cascata dazzles with its views, like the long look over the desert from the tee of the par-3 fourth hole. The wildest hole is the double-dogleg, par-5 18th with a stream bisecting the fairway.
The highest compliment I can give the course is how easy it is to forget you're on a Vegas golf trip-Cascata is that tranquil and postcard-pretty.
The most Vegas-y course I played is in Mesquite, an hour north: Wolf Creek. Whoever first looked at this jagged, bone-dry moonscape and deemed it ripe for a lush, green golf course-well that took guts. And money. With dizzying elevation changes and gorgeous views, Wolf Creek is totally over the top, and it's so crazy it actually works. This is fantasy golf come to life; the course was featured in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour '09 video game. Bring either your A-game or lots of golf balls, and get to know your golf cart's brake pedal-or die trying.