By: Andrew Penner
Just as promised, at 8:15 am sharp, a black limousine picked me up in front of my hotel. A sigh of relief. The plan was coming together. I had been anticipating this day, this round of golf, for years. While en route to the elusive Shadow Creek Golf Club – a high-roller enclave few journalists have ever been granted entry to – my driver, a massive African American man in his 30’s, smiled, looked into the rear-view mirror, and said, “You’re in for something special. Nobody leaves Shadow Creek disappointed.” He nailed it. In minutes I would enter hallowed grounds and have the most memorable golf experience of my life.
Not surprisingly,the high-roller golf scene in Vegas is unmatched. In a city convulsing with every excess your sick little mind could think of, it’s only fair that golf join the fray of the opulent,the over-the-top,the obscene. So, fear not, $500 green fees aren’t hard to find.
There is a trifecta, of sorts, of high-roller golf courses inLas Vegas. And, yes, two of them – The Wynn Golf Club and the mysterious Shadow Creek – are a cool $500 to play, plus caddy gratuity (caddies are mandatory at all three, a $100 tip is fairly standard). Green fees at Cascata are currently between $275 and $375. Of course, this is provided you can score an invite or a tee time, which can be a challenge.
But, this being Vegas, throw a little money around – especially in the right hotels – and things tend to get a lot easier. “Start betting a couple thousand dollars a hand and you’ll get noticed,” says Mark Brenneman, Shadow Creek’s General Manager and my gracious playing partner. “A casino host will get you here. But there is one stipulation we never bend on. You have to stay at an MGM Mirage-owned hotel, there are 10 on the strip, in order to play golf here.” Somewhat sheepishly, he adds, “I’ve recently turned down a Canadian Prime Minister because he was staying at the wrong hotel.”
Naturally, for the most courageous bettors, golf is typically gratis. After all, what’s $500 when you’re already leaving a million dollars behind? Golf, for these “players,” is just a little respite, some fresh air, from the high-stakes action at the tables.
If you’re a Harrah’s “player” (8 hotels, including Caesar’s Palace, among others), you could find yourself suddenly being whisked away to Cascata. Built on the side of a mountain near Boulder, about half an hour from the strip, Cascata is another palatial playground for the sharks. Here eye-popping waterfalls (hence the name) thunder through, yes through, the Tuscan-style clubhouse and frame a number of greens. While the golf here certainly flirts with greatness – for $500 ($325 in summer) it better! –the pampered experience is held back by a couple of factors. In my caddy’s words, “She’s a bit of a wind tunnel.” And, with many narrow fairways surrounded by hostile desert, you’ll have your hands full keeping your ball in play. Also,the route contains numerous uphill holes. But get it on a calm day and this Rees Jones design will win you over…even if the tables beat you down.
Laid out on the former site of the old Desert Inn, the on-the-strip Wynn Golf Club is located, literally, a couple hundred feet from the tables. The downside here is the fact that its 18 immaculately sculpted holes are squeezed into a fairly tight parcel of land. However, this didn’t deter course architect Tom Fazio from designing an engaging, par-70 course that’s been delighting dice-rollers since it opened in 2005. I found the layout, especially the greens, solid from start to finish. And, thanks to an amazing waterfall feature behind the 18th green, it’s a grand finale you won’t forget. But, if you can, try to forget the $375, give or take, you’ll fork over to play.
But, for me, Shadow Creek was the unforgettable one,the royal flush. The brainchild of Steve Wynn (he sold it to MGM Mirage in 2000), Shadow Creek is, unquestionably,the Augusta National of the southwest. Basically, thanks to his unlimited budget (final estimates in 1988 were in the$50 million range), architect Tom Fazio transformed a flat, no-good piece of sun-baked desert into a legendary, North Carolina-like paradise. 18 exquisite holes were envisioned. And 18 exquisite holes were created. It’s that simple.
After a leisurely breakfast on the southern-style veranda and a quick warm-up on the nicest range I’ve ever seen,the hushed and heavenly round unfolded. Mark and I gingerly walked, caddies behind, and never saw another soul. Perhaps 10 other golfers (two were NFL legends) played that day. The turf, from tee to green, was flawless. I noticed no divots, no ball marks. The route was sublime, laced with rock outcroppings, stone bridges, meandering creeks, and thousands of beautiful trees of many varieties. In spite of its “fabrication,” it was the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever experienced on a golf course.
Sauntering up the closing hole, a par-5 of incredible beauty, the words of my limo driver reverberated in my head. “Nobody leaves Shadow Creek disappointed.” How about, nobody wants to leave.
For more information visit: