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The Top 10 Las Vegas Golf Courses—Money (Perhaps) Be Damned

6 October 2008

Golf ranks quite high on the list of the many "other" things to do while visiting Las Vegas. And with its bevy of ultra-exclusive courses, Vegas may be the most expensive golf market in the U.S.

So, let's pretend for a moment that your budget is not a concern. Or, let's imagine that during your trip you go on such a fortuitous string of luck at the craps table that you wake up the next morning with $100 chips falling out of your pockets and you decide you want to treat yourself to a round of golf at the best course that the entire Las Vegas area has to offer. Where would you make a tee time?

To help us answer that question, we turn to golf and travel writer Ken Van Vechten, the author of Golf Las Vegas-The Ultimate Guide. This 228-page paperback is simply a must-read for golfers of all bankrolls and handicaps who plan on hitting the links while in Las Vegas.

Van Vechten -- who also authored Las Vegas EAT! and Neon Nuptials-The Complete Guide to Las Vegas Weddings -- brings his exhaustive research of the Vegas golfing scene to print as he describes, rates, praises and sometimes deflates nearly different 60 courses from Las Vegas to Mesquite, from Pahrump to Primm, from Boulder City to Laughlin and Arizona. In addition, he offers advice on where to stay and eat as well as other tips on how to make the most of your Vegas golfing vacation.

One of the lists at the start of the book is titled, "The Top 10 Courses—Money (Perhaps) Be Damned." Here is that list in its entirety, just in case you find yourself with greens fee money to burn the next time you're in the area.

10. TPC Las Vegas
TPC Las Vegas is of the rare breed of course that challenged PGA Tour pros and is available to the rest of us. TPC was formerly called Canyons, and for a reason: As you play through the arroyo on the front and avoid the chasm at all cost on the back, it produces any number of holes that individually could nearly carry some other courses. Views, outstanding service, and great food in the grill make the package complete.

9. Primm Valley Desert Course
My allegiances at Primm Valley have vacillated over the years, which simply means players have great options to choose from. The Shadow Creek Lite Lakes Course gets more attention and it is an attention-grabber, yet year-in year-out, it's the Desert Course to which I ultimately return and not just because I think desert golf should be played in the desert. (And at least until re-done Pelican Hill gets some scrutiny and play, Primm remains the best one-two golf punch in one location in southern California.)

8. Wolf Creek
A couple funky blind holes drive some folks nuts, but I'm not one who thinks a golf course has to put everything in plain view, and Wolf Creek certainly harbors a few secrets. Mind blowing is an apt descriptor for this moonscape of a course, a real course and not a contrivance, in Mesquite. Make the drive.

7. Bear's Best Las Vegas
Las Vegas does elsewhere like nowhere else, so of course there are golf holes brought in from around the world. Royal Links garners the exotica award, but for all-out legal larceny plus outstanding golf, it's Bear's Best Las Vegas, an assortment of Jack Nicklaus-designed holes from throughout the American West and Mexico. At some level this just might be my personal favorite. It's certainly the course I've played the most.

6. Wolf at Las Vegas Paiute
While Snow Mountain is my Las Vegas Paiute alpha male, Wolf still has more howl than most packs. If Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus somehow were to go through the Enterprise's transporter and emerge as one, Wolf is what would come of it.

5. Laughlin Ranch
Laughlin Ranch? As in lazy laid-back geriatric Laughlin? No. Laughlin Ranch as in Bullhead City, Arizona, across the river from lazy laid-back geriatric Laughlin. Since DragonRidge has finally gotten around to locking the gates to us plebeians, this is the chance to see the handiwork of designer David Druzisky, and now he's working with a developer who gets it. It's also at the very top of the heap when it comes to bang for the buck.

4. Cascata
Cascata is the second leg in Vegas' triple crown of dinero excess, and I'll admit that it took me some time to fully appreciate what players get from a day spent at this spare-no-expense hillside masterpiece with a river ripping through the clubhouse.

3. Snow Mountain at Las Vegas Paiute
With no runts in the litter, picking the top dog at Las Vegas Paiute comes down to often intangible attributes and for all the fanfare that accompanied the opening of Wolf several years ago, my heart and mind still go back to the first, Snow Mountain.

2. Reflection Bay
If you've never played a Nicklaus course, Reflection Bay is about as good of an introduction as exists on the public side of life. The course keeps a steady demeanor throughout, is approachable and potentially explosive, and coughs up no well-what-else-are-we-gonna-do?-we-gotta-link-the-12th-green-and-14th-tee holes. On top of that, no track in this desert consigned to coexisting with housing does a better job of not messing up the course for the houses and it's just flat-out nice out in Lake Las Vegas. Coincidentally, Golf for Women magazine tabbed Reflection Bay as one of the 50 best U.S. courses for women. So props to the developer and Nicklaus.

1. Shadow Creek
Shadow Creek and others at its price point aren't steady golf material for even well-above-the-median people. But in every way, shape, and form, this Butchart-grade golf garden warrants at minimum one play in a commoner's lifetime. It's rightly chatted up there in the realm of Pebble and though it requires a bit more scratch than that granddaddy of public golf, the mandatory hotel stay can be a fraction of the cost along 17-Mile Drive, openings on the tee sheet are few in number but attainable, and you won't be out there for six excruciating hours (sea otters are only so amusing). Plus, it's Vegas, so you don't need Gortex or a foghorn.

Copyright (c) 2008, Ken Van Vechten. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Ken Van Vechten says to never lay up on a short par 4 because driver presents one chance to screw up while 5-iron/mid-wedge doubles the likelihood. He's the author of Golf Las Vegas-The Ultimate Guide, Las Vegas EAT! and Neon Nuptials-The Complete Guide to Las Vegas Weddings. If he's not on the course or lounging in a spa somewhere you'll find him in his dual-ranged kitchen having cooking battles with his best pal and wife, Teresa. Click here to purchase your copy of Golf Las Vegas-The Ultimate Guide.

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