LAS VEGAS — Desert Pines Golf Club is out to give golfers a little taste of the Carolina Sandhills in downtown Las Vegas. This golf course is a worthy creation, but what's more impressive is how little land was used to do it.
As a result of high property values, most golf courses in Las Vegas, especially those in or near the city, face the challenge of building a championship course on small acreage. Desert Pines uses less than 100 acres of prime downtown real estate, including the parking lot, driving range and clubhouse.
The par-71 course plays 6,810 yards from the back tees, whereas many modern Las Vegas-area courses are more than 7,000 yards.
"It's not a long course but if it were any longer, it might be impossible to play, especially with any wind," said Jim Anderson, general manager of Desert Pines. This is a result of very tight fairways combined with small greens, just 6,000 to 8,000 square feet.
To create a championship-length course with such little land, designer Perry Dye had to be suave. The flat, marshy ground was pushed around quite a bit and a lot of the course actually plays beneath the original surface level, with large hills and pine trees protecting the perimeter from the outside.
Greens complexes are often bowled to create a more secluded feel. The course is compact enough that you can often find errant drives on other fairways. Long irons stand little chance of holding most greens, which are sloped severely in places, and three-putting looms on almost every hole.
More than 4,000 mature trees -- many of them pine -- line the fairways and perimeter of the course, blocking out the busy streets just beyond. You'll still get an urban vibe, especially when you tee off under a bright red billboard on the par-5 13th that plays along the back of the property. You'll also get the family signature (railroad ties) in a handful of bunkers.
Where the economy of design triumphs the most here is where the seventh, eighth and 17th greens come together, sharing the same pond and separated by what appears to be not much room between them.
But course officials say there's never any confusion or errant balls hit onto other greens. And it's easy to see why. No. 7 usually requires a short iron, No. 8 is a short par 3, and the 17th is a long par 4 where the pond comes into play mostly behind the green. It's a neat site when all three greens are occupied with golfers, all so close to one another but seemingly in their own little world.
You'll run into a handful of clever short par 4s, and the 14th, named "Do or Dye," is the most fun. It isn't long, and with some wind, the green is certainly drivable. But bunkers loom and near the green, pines come in very tight. Following this hole is "Little Poison," an equally short par 4 that wraps around a pond on the right.
The 18th will make you forget Desert Pines is supposed to be short. It's a 460-yard par 4 with water all down the left side. It's a daring, balls-out finish to a most often than not finicky course.
Players who simply must swat their driver 14 times in a round will probably get eaten alive at Desert Pines. Accuracy is paramount, especially approach shots. The course seems to have a good niche in Las Vegas, it's located north of the Strip and 10 minutes from downtown, which makes it a locals' favorite and convenient for golfers who don't have a car handy.
"We get a lot of tourists who will take a cab here just to use our practice facility," Anderson said. The range is open at night until 10 or 11 p.m. depending on the day and season. It's lit at night, as well as climate controlled for the winter and summertime.
It's the cheapest of the four Walters Golf courses. It also gets the most local play -- a result of location and affordability for locals -- and sees the most rounds played, around 40,000 a year.
October 11, 2007