There are lots of good casino golf courses in this country and plenty of fun casino resorts but not that many places with both. I've been in some pretty low-brow, smoke-filled, down-on-their-heels casinos that have surprisingly good courses, and in some pretty nice casinos that lack golf altogether.
If you want the perfect combo of standout golf and top-shelf casino resort amenities, look no further than these -- America's best:
Fallen Oak Golf Club & Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, Miss.
Home to a Champions Tour event, Fallen Oak Golf Club is a Tom Fazio gem that is consistently ranked the second best casino course in the world after its big sister, Shadow Creek -- also by Fazio.
You have to stay at MGM Resorts' Beau Rivage to play it -- and fork over the $300 greens fees -- but with caddies, immaculate conditioning, rock-strewn tumbling creeks, mature oaks dripping Spanish moss, first class service (and no members), it's worth it. The four-star/four-Diamond hotel has a great steakhouse, several other eateries and bars, lavish spa, the South's best poker room and true Southern hospitality. It doesn't hurt that it is on the water, next to the beach and Biloxi's excellent fishing marina.
Lake of Isles Golf Club & Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn.
Beyond Vegas, no casino resort can touch Foxwoods, not even Atlantic City -- it is by far the biggest and best equipped outside Nevada, with several hundred table games, the East Coast's largest poker room, four hotels from inn to luxury, more than a thousand rooms and more than three dozen bars and restaurants of every ilk and price point. There are urban nightclubs and an arena with regular performances by A-list entertainers, making Foxwoods a self-contained city.
Foxwoods has two golf courses and little else on 2,000 pristine acres of wilderness, exposed rock ledges and lakes, both Rees Jones-designed and Troon Golf-managed. In theory, only the North Course is open to resort guests, but the equally good and less played private South Course is usually also available through pricier packages.
Atunyote, Kaluhyat, Shenendoah & Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y.
The Empire State's largest golf resort, Turning Stone has three standout courses by Tom Fazio (Atunyote), Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (Kaluhyat) and Rick Smith (Shenendoah), all well worth playing but much different. Atunyote, which hosted a PGA Tour event, is perfectly manicured, wide open, grip 'em and rip 'em golf with tricky greens but little in the way of rough or hazards. While Kaluhyat is tight and penal, and Shenendoah is in the middle.
The resort also has two more nine holers for a total of 72, and a year-round, elaborate, indoor golf practice, simulation and instruction studio. The casino itself is above average, but the resort is way above average, with a performing arts center, winter garden atrium with waterfalls, several restaurants, huge luxury spa, a 19-story modern hotel tower plus a separate, very upscale boutique hotel (think marble whirlpool baths) with fine dining. There is also an RV Park and high-end, wilderness, fly fishing club with its own accommodations. This place is huge, and the golf matches the scale.
Atlantic City Country Club, Scotland Run, Balamor & Caesar's Atlantic City, N.J.
A 1923 Golden Age classic by William Flynn, of Shinnecock (and Cherry Hills, Merion, etc.) fame, Atlantic City Country Club has always been on the short list of top casino courses but jumped significantly after an extensive face lift by Tom Doak. The course is famous for its own virtues, for hosting half a dozen USGA Championships, and as the birthplace of "the birdie."
Until very recently (early 2014), it was owned by Caesars Entertainment, but the casino giant just sold it to the Ottinger family, who already own two other premier area courses. You don't have to be a guest of Caesars to play, but if you are, you now get preferred access to all three layouts and a world of gaming -- more than 2,000 slots and every imaginable table game, including some you probably can't imagine, like Midi-baccarat (not mini -- they have that, too), 21 + 3 Extreme, EZ Pai Gow, 4-Card Poker and so on. They also have big-time comedians and musicians regularly, several bars and lounges, and more than a dozen eateries, including not one but two high-end steakhouses and an outpost of famed Buddakan.
Shadow Creek & MGM Resorts in Las Vegas
It would be sacrilege to leave out the world's finest casino golf course and one of the world's greatest luxury golf experiences, the superlative Shadow Creek. It's drop dead gorgeous, it's ultra-private (there is one member, and you are likely to see zero other golfers). They have great caddies, and golf's highest greens fees at $500 includes the round-trip stretch limo and so on and so on.
The jewel in the career crown of Tom Fazio, Shadow Creek is not only the top-ranked casino course, it's on pretty much every Top 10 You Can Play list, period, including mine. To do so, you need to stay at an MGM Resorts property, but that's not as hard as choosing which one, since the company dominates Vegas. To make it easier, I've ranked them in descending order of luxury: The Mansion, Skylofts, Four Seasons, Aria Sky Suites, Hotel 32, Aria, THEhotel, Signature at MGM, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Vdara, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, New York New York, Monte Carlo, Luxor, Excalibur, Circus Circus.