LAS VEGAS - Golf in Sin City is about as low key and reserved as a mogul standing on top of his 50-story casino, a shooting fountain dancing to the music or a young woman asking if you want "a date" at 2 a.m. at the Aladdin's bar. If you're looking for subtleties, you're in the wrong place.
In Vegas golf, just like on Las Vegas Boulevard, it's all about the show. The more over-the-top-spectacular, the better, which can make for some very memorable days on the course.
Las Vegas golf does not carry the long tradition of some golf destinations. It's not going to have a run of courses on a bunch of fuddy-duddy architectural critics' lists.
But it's some of the most entertaining golf around.
Here's a look at the showstoppers of showstoppers, a top 10 of Las Vegas golf gleamed from talking to people in the travel industry, head pros, architects, and most important, regular golfers. These are all courses you can get on, whether you know Celine Dion or not.
• No. 1 - Wolf Creek Golf Club: It's something of an upset to be sure, with Shadow Creek and Cascata in the running. And it surely will annoy the Las Vegas courses to no end to see a track in its shadow town of Mesquite taking the top spot.
But Wolf Creek is that good.
Its views from towering tee boxes (16 of 18 holes boast elevated tees) onto a wonderland of canyons with no houses in sight make Wolf Creek unforgettable. Its shot-making chances - watching your ball fly, fly, fly off the tees, cutting the corner on a mountain, driving a par 4 - make Wolf Creek a blast. Its much more reasonable greens fees and low-key, big-service approach give Wolf Creek a clear edge over Shadow Creek.
• No. 2 - Shadow Creek remains Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio's greatest collaboration.
Some of mystique may have worn off over the years, but your wonder won't if you can easily part with the ridiculous $500 greens fee and hotel stay to play in this very fake, but very well done playground. The tunnel par 3 with flowers popping galore is one of those holes that stays with you.
• No. 3 - Paiute Wolf: This Pete Dye is as grueling, tormenting as you'd expect. It's also a great desert experience that caused our usually measured, no-bunk-tolerated Tim McDonald to describe it as "almost mystical."
Only about half an hour from The Strip, Wolf is clearly in its own world. The wind howls, often serving as Dye's torture assistant, whipping off the mountains and playing havoc with your shots.
"I've never been here when it hasn't blown," Dave Gilmore, a Wolf regular, said.
• No. 4 - Cascata: Long overshadowed by Shadow Creek, this $500 per round Rees Jones design creates lots of debate - both the underrated and overrated kind. There's a 418-foot waterfall, a 3,600-foot peak and flat-screen TVs on every clubhouse sink. Cascata should be no Vegas afterthought for the high-roller set.
• No. 5 - The Falls at Lake Las Vegas: The Nos. 12-14 stretch is enough to make this Tom Weiskopf design a must play on its own.
These are three show-stopping holes with dramatic drops, devilishly windy fairways and tricky greens. Standing on the 13th tee of The Falls, looking down and down, you see all the possibilities in Sin City golf.
• No. 6 - Primm Valley Desert Course: Forty-five minutes out of town, near the California border, this Tom Fazio is striking desert golf without the houses. In a Vegas area where the beep, beep, beep of a backing up construction vehicle could serve as a community soundtrack, you won't find a quieter course than Primm Valley's Desert.
Fazio isn't as showy here as he is at Shadow Creek, but it's still a round where the fairways look even greener contrasted with the forced carry desert brush areas.
"I never knew the desert was so beautiful," golfer Michelle Shirkey said.
• No. 7 - TPC Canyons: The second hole is a desert island green. It almost appears to be floating in air with only steep canyon below. From there, it's off and running on a course that requires a lot of forced carries - and an extra reserve of nerve.
The service from an attentive staff pushes it up another notch. And it doesn't hurt that you could run into a PGA Tour player in town, working out something in his game, on the back, private range.
• No. 8 - Rio Secco: If your putter's balking, you want to keep on walking past Rio Secco. This Rees Jones design offers some great Vegas views (along with plenty of course-side houses), but it's the greens that will be the excitement or bane of your day. They could teach a graduate degree course in reading putts off these tricky greens.
Despite being consistently ranked among Vegas' best, Rio Secco earns its spot by continuing to try and improve. It recently flipped its nines to take on its pace of play problems and give it a unique finish with back-to-back par-5 holes.
• No. 9 - Revere at Anthem (Lexington Course): This is target golf with elevated greens and forced carries galore. Revere's Lexington is anything but an easy passage, but it does make for a memorable day.
The design team of Billy Casper and Greg Nash may seem out of place among the other names in the top 10, but they deliver here, managing to make the omnipresent houses not take away from the course.
• No. 10 - Bear's Best: It seems almost sacrilegious to put a replica course on a top 10 list, but this is Vegas. If a replica Eiffel Tower can attract tourists, why not a golf course with 18 Jack Nicklaus copy holes? Bear's Best draws snickers from some architects, but regular golfers love it as much for the attentive service and course conditions as any design gimmicks.
"Bear's Best is probably the greatest overall experience we've had on a course," said Josh Isadore, who comes to Vegas with a group of golfing buddies every year. "The guys are still talking about it."
February 27, 2006