Vaunted designer Tom Weiskopf puts stamp on Lake Las Vegas

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

the Falls Golf ClubHENDERSON, Nev. -- Tom Weiskopf didn't wait until he lost 20 yards off the tee or the sharpness in his short game before retiring from the PGA Tour. The Scottsdale-based course designer got out of professional golf while the getting still was good.

The year was 1982. He was fourth on the all-time money list and had one major title to go with his 15 Tour victories. He was 40, yet he still could pound the ball farther than half the younger guys on the circuit.

He was -- to borrow a term from the lexicon of shotmaking -- in position "A" when golf course architecture came a-calling. Weiskopf jump-started his new career by teaming with Texas-based architect Jay Morrish. The duo would go on to design some of the country's most innovative courses until parting ways a few years ago. While Morrish kept his practice going by hiring his son, Weiskopf hung his own shingle in the Valley of the Sun and struck out on a solo career.

the Falls Golf ClubWhen the purveyors of Lake Las Vegas Resort decided it was time to add a third course to their multi-billion dollar development 17 miles east of the Strip, Weiskopf fit the profile. The Ohio native is the first to admit that he barely can draw a stick figure on a napkin, but his ability to conceptualize holes and his adherence to traditional design standards have made Weiskopf one of the desert's favorite sons.

"Mr. Weiskopf has experience designing and laying out desert courses, and we weren't exactly dealing with an easy piece of land to work with here," says Falls Course head professional Greg Brockelman.

Staring up at the back nine at the new Falls Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas, you'd think Weiskopf spent the past 20 years studying engineering, not course design. The course takes its name from two man-made waterfalls on the 11th and 17th holes. It easily could have been named for the 300 feet of elevation changes between the closely cropped tee boxes on No. 10 and the two-tiered green on No. 18.

"This course will probably become know for its back nine, but if you take the two together, there's a lot of variety out here," says Dan Romstead, Golf Sales Coordinator for Lake Las Vegas Resort. "But, you have to see the back (nine) to believe it."

Indeed, seeing is believing. The 12th, 13th and 14th holes easily could become one of the most talked about stretches in Glitter Gulch. A par-5 that plays 553 yards from the tips, No. 12 ascends to the highest point on the back nine via a blind second shot through a narrow pass. On the other side awaits a two-tired green perched on the side of a cliff and one of the best views of downtown Las Vegas available for public consumption.

the Falls Golf ClubThirteen and 14 are both par-4's that sport over 100 feet of elevation change from tee to green. Weiskopf recently referred to the 388-yard 13th as "just spectacular," but purists may label it "just diabolical." A drive from an elevated tee box has to find the left side of the fairway, otherwise you are looking at behemoth rock outcropping that takes the green out of play.

Weiskopf typically includes one drivable par-4 in each layout, and the 336-yard par 4 plays the part in dramatic fashion. From the member tees, the green sits just 279 yards away from a tee box that is over 150 feet above the fairway.

"One of the best things that Tom did was just let this piece of land do the talking," says Brockelman. "His bunkering is shallow for the most part and calls for more neutral shot shapes."

Weiskopf told reporters at the course's ribbon cutting that he didn't feel like he had the best piece of land to work with when designing the Falls Golf Club. To a degree, he was right. The front nine plays through a fairly mundane chunk of earth, and until the landscaping and nearby construction is complete, the ride out will trail the back nine in definition, aesthetics and drama. The lone exception is the par-5 7th hole. Weiskopf routed the hole through a small canyon and a desert wash splits the fairway from the green.

Weiskopf was known for two things back in his playing days: a sweet swing and a hot temper. No one knows this better than Jack Nicklaus, Weiskopf's teammate on the Ohio State University golf team. Whether premeditated or serendipitous, the two player/designers have been reunited at Lake Las Vegas Resort. Nicklaus designed Reflection Bay, the development's incumbent resort course, and the South Shore Golf Club, its lone private course.

Lake Las Vegas ResortIt is too early to tell where the Falls Golf Club fits in the Lake Las Vegas golf lineup. Reflection Bay is a Golf Magazine "Top 100 You Can Play" selection, and is considered one of the top tracks in the area. Another new course, Rainbow Canyon, is slated to open in 2004 with the redoubtable Tom Fazio at the controls. Greg Norman has even helicoptered around a portion of the property to assess the possibility of a fourth and final course.

"If Norman's course works out, you will literally be hitting from one hilltop to another," says Romstead. "The Fazio Course will by far and away be set on the best piece of land out here."

Also nearing completion at Lake Las Vegas is a 350-room Ritz Carlton that will be the centerpiece of the Mediterranean-themed MonteLago Village. The Ritz will house a 30,000-square foot spa, three restaurants and 25,000-square feet of meeting and banquet facilities. Nearby in the village, the waterside promenade will feature a collection of designer boutiques. If the Ritz is a little rich for your blood, the 496 rooms of the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas are just a chip shot away.

Stay

The Hyatt Regency has stay and play packages available on a seasonal basis. The hotel also houses a European-style casino with table game and slot machines. Guests also can enjoy a spa and fitness center as well as sailing, fishing, kayaking and canoeing on 320-acre Lake Las Vegas.

If staying on the Vegas Strip is more your style, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is an ideal home base for an extended weekend golf trip. The property is home to the 30,000-square foot Spa Mandalay, fine dining at 3950 and Aureole, the 1,800-seat House of Blues and a Shark Aquarium that is a must-see for both adults and kids. For more information, log on to www.mandalaybay.com.

Getting There

From the Las Vegas Strip, take Interstate 15 South to Route 215 East. This road turns into Lake Mead Blvd. Follow the road through the town of Henderson to the Lake Las Vegas Resort entrance.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


 
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