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LONNA TUCKER/ JOHN AND JEANNINE HENEBRY
With the PGA Tour headed back to Las Vegas this week, we celebrate the nation’s best courses tied to gaming facilities. While experts agree that there’s no such thing as a “sure thing,” the following eleven casino courses -- like We-Ko-Pa (Cholla) in Ft. McDowell, Arizona and Shadow Creek in Las Vegas -- are the best bets around.
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No. 2 at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes / Ross Kinnaird, Getty Images
11. Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Maricopa, Ariz.; golfsoutherndunes.com; $29-$189
A private men’s club upon its creation in 2002, this Schmidt-Curley design, with Fred Couples consulting, is now an amenity of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino just down the road in Maricopa, some 25 minutes south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This muscular 7,500-yard design features sprawling bunkers, fescue-framed fairways and nary a home or a weak hole.
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No. 16 at Lake of Isles (North) / Evan Schiller
10. Lake of Isles (North), North Stonington, Conn.; lakesofisles.com; $119-$180
The Mashantucket Pequots pioneered the tribal casino-resort with their prosperous Foxwoods in southeastern Connecticut, yet it wasn’t until 2005 that they had a course worth bragging about. Rees Jones chisled two formidable spreads from the rock-studded hills, the public-access North and the South. Wetlands, rock ledges and rolling, forested terrain provide all the golf you could want.
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No. 6 at French Lick Resort (Pete Dye) / Kevin Frisch, Fusion Media Strategies
9. French Lick Resort (Pete Dye), French Lick, Ind.; frenchlick.com; $350-$380
You’ll need local hero Larry Bird’s long-range touch to cope with this five-year-old, 8,100-yard Pete Dye brute that plays atop ridges and through valleys amid the rolling countryside of southern Indiana. Rough-covered sidehill lies and a fistful of volcano bunkers will drain any golfer. Restore next door at the French Lick Resort Casino, with its spa and gaming tables.
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No. 18 at Wynn Las Vegas / John and Jeannine Henebry
8. Wynn Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nev.; wynnlasvegas.com; $300-$500
Turn Tom Fazio loose with hotelier Steve Wynn’s imagination and budget and you have the Wynn, with its enviable location on the Las Vegas Strip. The oasis-in-the-desert ambiance is achieved via 15,000 pines, planted atop slopes that cocoon virtually every hole and by the handsome water features that grace 11 holes.
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No. 5 at Atunyote / Courtesy of Turning Stone Resort
7. Atunyote at Turning Stone Resort Casino; turningstone.com; $200-$225
Open only to guests of Turning Stone, this pristine, 10-year-old Tom Fazio parkland creation is maintained like a PGA Tour course -- which it once was. Dustin Johnson won his first PGA Tour title here in 2008, Matt Kuchar took the title in 2009 and Tiger Woods shows up annually to compete in the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge.
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No. 12 at Cascata / Larry Lambrecht
6. Cascata, Boulder City, Nev.; golfcascata.com; $245-$425
For this kind of price tag, you would surely expect waterfalls on the practice range, bighorn sheep on the first hole and a river that runs through the clubhouse. At Cascata, a Caesars Entertainment property, you get all that and more. This 2001 Rees Jones design 30 minutes south of the Vegas Strip is a high desert links with firm, fast fairways that burrow through stark, brown rock-encrusted hills.
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No. 5 at We-Ko-Pa (Cholla) / Lonna Tucker
5. We-Ko-Pa (Cholla), Ft. McDowell, Ariz.; wekopa.com; $75-$230
We-Ko-Pa’s original course, designed by Scott Miller, owns the slight edge over its Coore-Crenshaw sibling for sheer drama. As with the Saguaro course, Cholla zigzags through cactus-framed canyons, climbs atop ridges and offers stunning vistas of Four Peaks Mountain and Red Mountain.
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No. 18 at We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro) / Lonna Tucker
4. We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro), Ft. McDowell, Ariz.; wekopa.com; $75-$230
Situated on Tribal land adjacent to the Ft. McDowell Casino, this cactus-studded test boasts dramatic views of the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and mountains in every direction, but most memorable is the puzzle-solving process on this subtle, yet strategic design from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
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No. 9 at Dancing Rabbit (Azaleas) / Russell Kirk
3. Dancing Rabbit (Azaleas), Choctaw, Miss.; dancingrabbitgolf.com; $60-$130
This undulating 1997 Tom Fazio/Jerry Pate design darts through thick forest on a canvas ribboned with creeks, wetlands and in springtime, countless azaleas. If your luck runs out at the long, watery, par-4 18th, you can find it again down the street at the Pearl River Resort.
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No. 3 at Fallen Oak at Beau Rivage Resort / Michael Clemmer
2. Fallen Oak at Beau Rivage Resort, Biloxi, Miss.; fallenoak.com; $200
Picture Shadow Creek drenched in Deep South aesthetics and you have another Tom Fazio-MGM masterpiece. 20 minutes inland from the coastal Beau Rivage, Fallen Oak dishes out streams, orchards, lakes and wetlands, along with Fazio’s sprawling bunkers -- plus an Acadian-style, Southern Mansion clubhouse.
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No. 18 at Shadow Creek / John and Jeannine Henebry
1. Shadow Creek , North Las Vegas, Nev.; shadowcreek.com; $500
MGM/Mirage’s hangout for high rollers remains the ultimate Hollywood set come to life, an oasis of pine trees, rolling hills, flowers and waterfalls hewn from a poker table-flat, lifeless plot of desert by magicians Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn. You must be identified by the casino as a “whale” in order to earn an invitation to play.