MESQUITE, Nev. -- Playing Wolf Creek Golf Club is like watching a suspenseful thriller.
Your emotions will rage. Your heart will thump at the daunting prospects of keeping your ball on grass and out of the rocky canyons lining every fairway. Your palms will sweat trying to maneuver safely over waterfalls and arroyos. Your mouth will drop agape at the soaring views from elevated tee boxes. You'll look at your scorecard in horror.
And when it's over, your body will crave the adrenaline rush all over again.
EA Sports featured the tantalizing Wolf Creek Golf Club in Tiger Woods' "PGA Tour 2009." Truthfully, playing this 6,939-yard course seems more like you're in a video game than reality anyway. It's a living tribute to the marvels of modern architecture.
Bob Blair, visiting from Grants Pass, Ore., puts it this way: "They turned the Grand Canyon into a golf course."
The canyons and rocky outcropping that make up Wolf Creek create one of the most scenic courses in the world. Unfortunately, they've also created golf's version of Frankenstein's monster. Wolf Creek, which opened in 2000, can overwhelm even the most savvy of players. The best advice? Bring your camera, but leave your ego behind.
"As a first-timer, if you are within 10 strokes of your norm, you've played well," Blair said. "The second tee box makes the knees wobble."
The starters recommend anyone with a handicap above 9 play the woefully short 5,798-yard white tees. For the sake of your own sanity, listen. Even those heavy hitters playing from the blues will play a shorter course than they're used to at 6,309 yards. The elevation changes make it play much longer and more difficult. The slope from the tips demands the 154 maximum of the United States Golf Association, and moving up tee boxes, it still remains high.
Wolf Creek demands precise, target golf. Gauging proper club selection while riding up and down the canyons remains a mystery on par with the finding Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
A high score rarely ruins the high golfers feel walking off the 18th green, however.
"The course was awesome, the waterfalls, the river, the view," said Dillon Talbor of Page, Ariz. In the next breath, he added: "It is very intimidating. It is very deceiving."
Some sections of Wolf Creek feel wedged in and others a bit overdesigned. My only minor criticism: Why continue to throw water hazards and bunkers at players when the striking canyon setting and slick, tilted greens are enough? The narrow 10th can be a chore to play, and the tiny 125-yard 15th seems like a bit of a throwaway hole.
But from the dramatically downhill tee shot at No. 1 to the tough uphill approach at No. 18, this is as good as public golf gets. Golf Digest ranks Wolf Creek No. 28 among the country's best public courses in its 2011-12 ratings.
"We truly believe of the 18 holes, 16 can be another course's signature hole," General Manager Joey Villanos said.
Is it worth the 60- to 90-minute drive from Las Vegas to play? If you're only in town a short time, probably not. A four-day weekend with some buddies, though? This is a great day excursion. My group left early one morning, played all afternoon in sunshine and got home in time for dinner at our hotel, Wynn Las Vegas. It was a near perfect day, even if I did get humbled from the wrong set of tees. Considering the higher green fees of playing the best courses near the Strip, Wolf Creek will feel like a steal.
January 13, 2012