Badlands Golf Club in Las Vegas: Johnny Miller got it right

By Kevin Iole, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- During the early-to-mid 1990s when Las Vegas was by far the country's fastest growing city, more than 5,000 people a month were moving to southern Nevada. The experts say it was because of affordable housing and the availability of jobs.

Diablo Course at Badlands Golf Club - 1st
Badlands Golf Club is the epitome of what a desert course should be.
Diablo Course at Badlands Golf Club - 1stBadlands Golf Club - greensDiablo Course at Badlands Golf Club - no. 3Badlands Golf Club - forced carries

I say it was because of golf.

Around the time that the city's population began to explode, so, too, did the number of Las Vegas' golf courses. And right in the midst of that explosion was the birth of Badlands Golf Club.

Now, before I get into this review, I should make a confession: I've always had a thing with the Badlands. I played the course on the day of its grand opening in 1995. And promptly lost my ball on the first swing I took. As well as a second ball on my second swing.

As you might imagine, I've had, well, issues with it in the decade or so since.

So, wouldn't you know that my first assignment reviewing golf courses for would be to head out to my one-time nemesis.

I actually had a chance to tour the course before it was opened, while it was being shaped. And I was struck by how unique it was at the time for Las Vegas. It was, surprise, surprise, a desert course.

That shouldn't come as too much of a shock, since Las Vegas is in a desert and we have to all but ration our drinking water here, but prior to the creation of the Badlands, there weren't a lot of pure desert tracks in the city.

I remember thinking that day as I toured the course as the holes were being shaped that Johnny Miller got it right.

WHAT I LIKED: Pristine conditions; greens that roll true; short par-4s which require thought off the tee.

WHAT I DISLIKED: Fairly slow play.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Double thumbs up.

And after playing a round on a glorious afternoon recently more than a decade later, that opinion was only reinforced.

The course was in magnificent condition. I've played it many times over the years and I can honestly say I've never seen it as pristine as I found it during this review round.

The greens were quick, but not Oakmont-style fast, and, significantly, rolled true. Even though I played in the late afternoon, putts stayed on line and the break I read was the break I got.

The fairways were thick and full and always provided a good lie. This was true on each hole.

It's finding the fairways -- which are, in typical Las Vegas fashion, generously wide -- that is the trick.

Badlands is the epitome of what a desert golf course should be. You frequently have to carry the ball over the rugged desert terrain and, to score well, have to place the ball in the proper side of the fairway.

Good shots are rewarded, but errant shots are frequently penal, sometimes exceptionally so.

Badlands' nines: Diablo, Desperado, Outlaw

The Badlands features 27 holes named Desperado, Diablo and Outlaw. The Outlaw is the nine to play if you're a high handicapper, struggling with your game or running low on golf balls.

You get an idea of what you're in for during your round on a relatively tame starting hole on the Diablo nine. The first is a short par-4 measuring 322 yards from the back tees to only 238 from the forward tees. There isn't a good reason to use your driver on this hole.

You need to hit the fairway here, since the hole is essentially a patch of green surrounded by imposing desert ready to swallow your ball.

If you do reach the fairway, your putter will determine whether you make par or even birdie, since it's a relatively easy second shot over a wash to an accessible green.

For the most part, you'll find everything is very straightforward as you stand on the tee. You can see where you need to hit the ball immediately; the trick, then, is doing it.

The one exception to that is the par-4 sixth on the Diablo, which happened to be my favorite hole of Badland's 27. You stand on an elevated tee and hit down to a landing area, though you can't see the green from the tee.

The hole cuts to the right, so you have to decide how aggressively you want to play your tee shot. Because the hole isn't long -- it's just 389 yards from the back tee -- you'll likely have a short iron in your hand no matter what.

The key is to get it to where you're not in between clubs and that takes playing it more than once.

The Outlaw nine is shorter, with fewer forced carries over desert area, though water comes into play on it on several holes (as well as on the Desperado nine).

My favorite hole on the Desperado nine is the third, another less-than-imposing par-4 distance wise, but one where accuracy and management will determine the score. The hole is 354 yards from the back tees and is protected on both sides of the fairway by large lakes.

Chipping around the greens is always interesting, because Miller built many of the greens in a bowl, where there are mounds that you'll have to hit from if you miss your approach. The result is some awkward stances which require good and thoughtful short games.

The experience at the Badlands was a terrific one. The course is unique and so, too, are the golf carts. They're equipped with an air conditioner and a heater, so the temperature inside the cart should never be uncomfortable.

And you should never be uncomfortable on the course, if you're hitting the ball straight. If you have the old, ahem, power fade in your repertoire, get ready for a lot of unusual shots and a higher than normal score.

Kevin Iole, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment