LAS VEGAS -- March Madness is so very often considered to be the biggest time of the year for golfers looking to go to Sin City for some springtime golf and sports betting. But October also makes a pretty strong argument as the best time to play golf in Vegas.
As I visited in the second week of October this year, two weeks before the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the PGA Tour, held at TPC Summerlin, area courses were several weeks into their winter over-seed season. "Cart path only" signs were getting put back in the barn all over, meaning turf was drying up for the winter. Temperatures couldn't have been better: low 90s temps that were warm enough to incite a post-round trip to the pool but cool enough to feel pretty refreshed out on the golf course. And, of course, there are plenty of football games to bet on, plus baseball playoffs and the beginning of the NHL season.
On this particular trip to Vegas, I made a point to visit a few courses I'd yet to visit but heard plenty about.
Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort
For golf junkies, those who want to play 36 holes in one day, the only real logical place to start is at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. It's especially true in the fall, because the facility's higher elevation north of the Strip, along with better access to irrigation, allows them to keep their rye turf all year long. So there's far less guess work in the fall concerning current conditions.
Paiute, located just 20-25 minutes north of the Strip, has so much going for it as an operation. It's the only 54-hole facility around. All three courses were designed by Pete Dye, but at different times, and each has a little different style to them. Perhaps the most ironic and refreshing aspect to Paiute is that while American Indian reservations have been known for their golf and gambling resort and casinos, Paiute's property is entirely void of gaming, as well as any type of real estate development, making for plenty of solitude, lots of green grass and mountain backdrops. The Strip is nowhere to be seen (and once you've lost a few bets or bought one too many $16 drinks, that's a good thing).
I started my day on the Wolf Course, a play I thought might be really hard, because that's how it was marketed when it opened in the early 2000s (back in the infamous days when "long and hard" was all the rage in golf course marketing). But, frankly, it is probably the most playable of the three courses here, thanks to slightly wider playing corridors and greens often several paces larger as well. Its championship tee distance, at more than 7,600 yards, certainly means it can set up hard, but for daily play, it's a fair and pleasant round. Sun Mountain and Snow Mountain are very worthy runner-ups to Wolf, and their ratings near-identical currently on Golf Advisor.
TPC Las Vegas
Minutes away from TPC Summerlin is TPC Las Vegas, which is open to the public, but area tour pros often prefer to practice at this huge facility.
TPC Las Vegas has a sweet spot as a top-shelf experience but less expensive than Strip splurges such as Bali Hai Golf Club and Wynn Golf and Country Club and less exclusive than casino courses Cascata and Shadow Creek Golf Course that prefer to keep their tee sheets bare.
TPC's perks to golf travelers are numerous. You can choose one of four different brands of rental sets; their "No Hassle Package" includes rental clubs and shoes. Or, if you brought your own clubs, you can send them home straight from the course with ShipSticks (they'll print the label and pack up your clubs for you). For those who haven't swung the wrenches in awhile, the practice facility is fantastic, so show up early. The course itself is full of dramatic holes playing in and thru canyons and desert areas (which explains the original name for the course, TPC Canyons). The drama comes early in the round at the par-3 second, which is a downhill shot to a green complex surrounded by desert.
Also playing in Las Vegas
News-wise, the golf scene in Las Vegas has undergone a bit of turmoil this fall. Silverstone Golf Club closed its doors abruptly in September. Meanwhile, in Summerlin, a sale of Badlands Golf Club has posed a potential (some would say imminent) closure of at least part of its 27-hole course for a residential development. Nearby Angel Park, however, is an affordable and popular spot for locals and features two regulation courses. Plus, for night golf, check out the Cloud 9 par-3 course.
On this particular trip, I also finally made the drive out to Coyote Springs Golf Club, a mysterious yet well known course about an hour northeast of the Strip. It's another year-round rye grass layout with tons of water, huge fairways and really interesting holes far different from your more Vegas-style desert golf. Murmurs here are that they are finally going to begin selling some real estate, and infrastructure is being prepped as we speak. The 30-40 year master plan calls for north of 100,000 homes. But for now, you can still get a great deal to play a Jack Nicklaus-designed course in sheer solitude that is still hanging around on some top 100 lists.
A few off-course observations in Las Vegas
It'd been a few years since I've been on the Las Vegas Strip. For starters, when in the heck did blackjack start paying out 6-to-5 at most lower-minimum blackjack tables? Perhaps that's why most casinos have gone to hiring go-go dancers to work the pits in order to distract you from the bad odds. You'll have to bet $25 a hand at most spots to get 3-to-2 blackjacks.
We spent an afternoon at Lagasse's Stadium, a bar and restaurant in the Venetian watching and betting on games. It's a more social atmosphere here than other sportsbooks where everyone is just staring forward in a daze at 30 monitors. You can reserve your own seating area that feels a bit like a lounge, which is good for bachelor party groups like ours. (Though with the $50 F&B minimum, you'd think they could upgrade the TVs.)
One highlight of the trip was a night out downtown. I'd been tipped off to Fremont East, a recently revitalized district, and it was a really refreshing vibe: casino dealers are friendlier, table minimums are lower, odds are better. There is a legitimate bar and restaurant scene here with the odd casino and hotel in between. When we come back to Vegas (and there's always a "next time" in Vegas), we may make this neighborhood our home base.