If you're planning a trip to Las Vegas, you already know there's no shortage of entertainment, whether it comes to gaming, nightlife and, yes, golf.
The golf course scene offers venues that belie their desert environment, some as extravagant as their mega-resort casino affiliations and even a few bargains. What they're not is boring.
Authored by some of the game's best architects, there are courses for every taste and in most every style. Here are a dozen hits from which to choose:
Money is no object department
If you're a high roller, pretty much have an unlimited budget or you've saved up for a bucket-list course, there are three that fit that category in Las Vegas, led by the still-mysterious Shadow Creek Golf Club.
This creation of Las Vegas business magnate Steve Wynn and architect Tom Fazio still costs $500 to play (not including caddie) and is still a playground for the rich and famous, but it's a little easier to get onto than it once was. You just have to be a guest at an MGM Resorts International destination such as MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, the Bellagio or about nine other Las Vegas casino resorts.
Ranked among the top 20 courses you can play in the country, the experience begins with the limo ride to the course, which is about 15 minutes north of the Las Vegas Strip. Dug out of the desert sand, the course is anything but desert with thousands of imported trees, streams, lakes, elevation changes, beautiful doglegs and perfect conditions, including its newer bentgrass greens.
Wynn Golf Club is located right on the Strip, right behind Wynn Las Vegas, and is pretty well hidden. In fact, you can't drive to the clubhouse. You have to park at the casino and have your clubs valeted. It sits on the old site of the Desert Inn, former home to PGA and LPGA events for more than 50 years. Wynn is an almost Augusta-like experience in terms of conditioning and solitude. Perfect bentgrass greens, white-sand bunkers and a network of pristine streams, ponds and flora create one memorable view after another. The course also includes 7,200 trees and 100,000 bushes and waterfalls, including one that's 37 feet tall behind the 18th green. Expect to pay between $300 and $500 to play.
And then there's the Rees Jones-designed Cascata, which sits at more than 3,000 feet in a mountain setting about a half hour or so southeast of Vegas in Boulder City. Cascata means "waterfall" in Italian, so it's no surprise that the dominant element of this experience is the 418-foot waterfall that starts on the mountain behind the range and meanders through the course and splits the magnificent 37,000-square-foot Tuscan-style clubhouse. A little more desert golf than the other two, each hole is almost entirely secluded, and like the other two, you may not see another golfer on the course. Green fees generally run in the $250 to $375 range, and a forecaddie is required.
Uniquely Las Vegas
Like Wynn, Bali Hai Golf Club is located right on the Strip, but it's not hidden. Located next to Mandalay Bay it doesn't cost as much to play as Wynn down the street, but it still offers wall-to-wall lush conditions, including bentgrass greens, with plenty of water, pristine white-sand bunkers and more than 2,500 palm trees in a South Pacific tropical setting. Taking a forecaddie adds to the experience. After golf, enjoy a great dining experience overlooking the course at the Cili Restaurant and Bar.
Bali Hai is owned by Walters Golf, which also owns one of my other favorite Las Vegas golf venues, Royal Links Golf Club, which couldn't be more different from Bali Hai. In the spirit of Las Vegas, though, Royal Links is anything but desert golf, offering a collection of holes inspired by the great venues of the British Open, including St. Andrews, Royal Troon and Muirfield, just to name a few. There's also a Scottish castle-style clubhouse, which offers dozens of imported ales and Scotch whiskeys.
If you really want to complete the experience Las Vegas style, book a ParMate, which is sort of a caddie but mostly a gorgeous young lady/model who will be your host throughout your golf experience, taking care of most of your needs throughout your experience. Everything except reading greens, that is.
Other top Las Vegas picks
Angel Park Golf Club, which has 48 holes, might be the most complete golf experience in Las Vegas and also one the area's best bargains. Not only does it offer two regulation-length golf courses (Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay designs), but also it has a short course and a putting course -- and both of those are under the lights. Even the driving range is lighted. Cloud Nine is the name of the par-3 course (it actually has 12 holes, but nine of them are lighted) that features loose replicas of some of the most famous par 3s in the world, including the 17th island green at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course and the postage stamp hole at Royal Troon in Scotland.
At Revere Golf Club, there are two terrific layouts -- the Lexington Course and Concord Course -- designed by Greg Nash and Bill Casper. Both feature panoramic views of the Las Vegas skyline and the Strip as well as the mountains of southern Nevada.
At Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, you'll find three challenging and well conditioned Pete Dye-designed courses to play (the Snow Mountain, Sun Mountain and Wolf), all of them very different. All of them also feature cool-season grasses, which means no overseeding and no transition in the spring. While the hot summers can be a little challenging for the maintenance crew, the course stays in tip-top shape for the majority of the year and is in awesome shape fall through spring.
Another prime choice is the 27-hole Badlands Golf Club. This Johnny Miller-Chi Chi Rodriguez collaboration consists of the Desperado, Outlaw and Diablo. And while you might classify them as resort golf, target golf might be a little more accurate description. You also have to think your way around the courses, with driver not always the best option off the tee on par 4s and par 5s.
Rio Secco Golf Club is where Butch Harmon has his academy and teaches many of his top tour players. It's also a top-notch Rees Jones design and a sister course to Cascata.
TPC Las Vegas, designed by Bobby Weed and Raymond Floyd, is another impeccably conditioned course. This former PGA Tour venue has great views of Red Rock Canyon and the Las Vegas skyline.
And finally, if you're a fan of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses, you'll like Bear's Best Las Vegas, a collection of Nicklaus' personal favorites from his designs like Desert Mountain in Arizona, Castle Pines in Colorado, Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, and PGA West in Palm Springs, Calif., to name a few.