LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Steve Snarr has waited all year for this. All the long hours on the job, all the business travel, and all the rigors of helping his wife raise their 1-year-old daughter soon will be put on hold - if only for four days. Snarr, a sales manager with a pharmaceutical company, and three of his college buddies are headed to Vegas, baby, for the first two rounds of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.
"There's nothing like it, man. There is no better place to be for March Madness than Las Vegas," Snarr says. "You find a good sports book and just settle in for the ride."
Arguably the greatest sporting event on the planet, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are a roller-coaster ride of shocking upsets, thrilling buzzer-beaters and compelling triumphs. Of course, all of this emotion can be duplicated at one of Vegas' many outstanding golf tracks before the day's first tip-off.
"We have three tee times set up," Snarr says. "So basically sleep will be the one thing that doesn't make the cut."
Snarr, by his own admission, is a North Carolina Tar Heels fan and won't have a dog in the race in this year's tournament. The Heels (15-13 overall, 5-9 in the ACC as of this writing) are gunning for a postseason berth in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and will miss the NCAA field of 65 for the second straight year.
No worries, says Snarr.
"There's enough excitement without them and there's enough golf here to ease the pain," he says.
Indeed, if one looks hard enough here in Glitter Gulch, there's a golf course for every college hoops fan.
The Wolf Course at Las Vegas Paiute Resort should appeal to fans of the "Big Blue." This Pete Dye designed beast is currently the longest course in the state at just over 7,600 yards. This stunning desert track is always on the defense with deep green side bunkers, blind shots, and sneaky crossing bunkers. Missing an approach shot to the wrong side of the green is like going in for a lay-up against the Wildcat forwards Jules Camara and Marquis Estill - trouble.
The new Falls Course at Lake Las Vegas runs the court like the other Wildcats. Designer Tom Weiskopf has always had a flair for beautifully orchestrated holes, much like Arizona head coach Lute Olson's penchant for designing high octane offenses. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and that is exactly the strategy the Falls Course employs on its back nine. Three hundred feet of elevation changes, views of Southern Nevada in its entirety, two man-made waterfalls and an edgeless pond are enough to distract golfers from the task at hand. The next thing you know, its Luke Walton to Jason Gardner and score the basket.
Is there more sophisticated golf complex in Clark County than the Angel Park Golf Club? Much like the Jayhawks inside/outside combination of guard Kirk Hinrich and forward Nick Collison, this baby has it all: Two 18-hole courses, a par-3 lighted course featuring replicas of some of the most famous par-3s in the world and an 18-hole natural grass putting course complete with bunkers and water hazards. Bills itself as the "world's most complete golf experience." You won't hear it from Kansas head coach Roy Williams, but look for the Jayhawks to make it back to the Final Four.
Wolf Creek is regarded as one of the top-five courses in the state of Nevada. The Utah Utes are regarded as the top hoops program in (you guessed it) Utah. Head coach Rick Majerus has wrapped up another 20-win season and has the Utes in position for a No. 4 or a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance. The drive time to tumbleweed town of Mesquite (home of Wolf Creek) is about an hour each way to the and worth every minute. The drive time to the University of Utah could not be determined, because no one has actually been there.
Bali Hai Golf Club. A round approaches $300 in season. About the same amount as a Tony Coles phone bill.
Bear's Best. Golden Bear fans should flock to this tribute to the Golden Bear, from the Golden Bear. A collection of Jack Nicklaus' best holes are on display at this fairly new facility courtesy of replica course aficionados Club Corp of Dallas. Picture California head coach Ben Braun oh-ing and ah-ing over the par-3 fourth hole, a replica of the 7th hole at the Old Works Golf Club in Anaconda, Montana. The Pac-10 coach of the year candidate deserves some time on the links after leading the upstart Golden Bears to a 20-6 record and a sure-fire spot in the Big Dance.
Royal Links Golf Club. This 18-hole British Open replica course is the perfect fit for Bulldogs' fans, whose men's basketball program recently placed itself on probation and banned itself from postseason play despite finishing atop the Western Athletic Conference standings. Bulldog fans can join in the festivities by banning themselves from the U.K. and resigning themselves to play this outstanding collection of "inspired by" holes from Walters Golf. Should the mood strike them, players, coaches and alumni could even play together, now that March is wide open for everyone.
Time was, Caesars Palace was the place to lay it on the line. Mandalay Bay, with its giant, digital line board, movie screen sized big screen, and dozens of smaller televisions is the new haunt for sports junkies. If you need to compare and contrast, step next door and check out the meager sports book at the Luxor where patrons are jammed into a hot, smoky room with grease boards and tiny TVs. Only thing we'd change at Mandalay: you might have $500 riding on the big game but you have to pay for drinks. Ethel, with a $5 investment on the slots, can guzzle gin to her heart's content without having to dip into her faux leopard skin pocketbook.
March 11, 2003