LAS VEGAS -- No destination has embraced the concept of replicas quite like Las Vegas.
But one of the city's finest efforts isn't in a gaudy hotel and casino, but on the golf course. Royal Links Golf Club pays a fine tribute to the famous British Isle links courses.
Opened in 1998, Royal Links has selected and recreated 18 of the British Open's best holes. Many of the favorites are here. From the Road Hole at St. Andrews to the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon.
Other courses represented here are Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham, Royal Birkdale, and the original home of the British Open: Prestwick.
Of course, it'd take a miracle (or Shadow Creek-like budget) to recreate an ocean shoreline and 50 inches of annual rainfall. But Perry Dye and company have certainly done their homework.
"The responses are awesome. They tell us it's unbelievable what we've been able to do," said Jeff Mayhall, head professional at Royal Links. "People who have been (to some of the original courses) tell us the attention to detail is what they're most impressed with."
All the trademarks of links golf are here. You'll navigate through 108 bunkers, many of which have steep, sod faces. There is heather and rolling undulation and hand-crafted dunes. Greens are quick, large and firm. The course has an expansive feel with few trees and heather lining the fairways.
You're bound to recognize many of these holes if you watch a lot of the British Open on TV or have been overseas yourself. The 18th is a replica of the 14th at St. Andrews, a par 5 known for the notorious "Hell Bunker." This recreation however isn't as steep or penal, and can be easily avoided, especially since there isn't out-of-bounds right like on the Old Course.
On the Road Hole, there is no Old Course Hotel, but a brick wall that extends down the left side and around the back of the green. The infamous Road Hole Bunker looms in front of the green as well.
The Ailsa Course at Turnberry has back-to-back holes on the 14th and 15th, and the 16th offers a taste of the grueling last five holes at Carnoustie Championship Links, paying tribute to the 15th there: a par-4 at 454 yards with huge fairway bunkers on either side. The hole is long enough driver must be hit, but few can hit it between these monsters.
Adding to the flair of traditional links golf, caddies are available at all times. You can hire one or two forecaddies per foursome, who can also help steer you from bunkers not visible from the tee. Or, you can take a personal caddie and walk.
As subcontractors, there's no official rate for them, but the course recommends $20-30 per bag or $50 plus gratuity if he's on your bag only. Caddie fees go only to the caddies and not to the course.
Having garnered a reputation as one of the Las Vegas area's most difficult courses, Royal Links did widen fairways a few years back to boost pace of play. It's also considerably easier during the winter months when the rough and heather is dormant, making it easier to find balls and hit out of the rough.
"It's more of a challenge in the summer time," Mayhall said. "The Bermuda grass gets pretty thick. It's a different animal in the winter compared to the summer."
Royal Links does an admirable job of replicating some of the British Isles' finest holes. All the favorites are there: The eighth at Troon and the 17th at St. Andrews included.
The ground is also nearly as firm as many of the links courses overseas, so you can play a bump-and-run game if you desire. Wind can also pick up on certain days, but unlike the isles, you'll find few days without sunshine in Vegas.
It can be a pricey round, at up to $239 during peak season weekends, but you'll get a five-star golf experience that doesn't skimp on the details.
If you're a betting man, be sure to put a few bucks on your game at No. 8. Here, if you can hit your shot on the green closer than the young lady (careful, don't let the fact she's wearing sandals think you've got it easy) you can double your money to spend in Royal Links' golf shop.
Royal Links is also one of the closer courses to the Strip, located about seven miles east.
If you don't feel like eating on the Strip, Stymie's Pub in the striking Royal Links castle-like clubhouse is a recreation of an isle pub and features traditional fare like fish and chips, bangers, as well as breakfasts, salads and sandwiches.
If you want something at the turn, use the ninth tee call box to pre-place your order. Or speak with the beverage cart and have lunch delivered on the course.
The Old Course at St. Andrews and Royal Troon have the most holes represented here at three apiece.
August 15, 2007