Badlands Golf Club: A Las Vegas desert course that's as tough as its name

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - Badlands Golf Club isn't easy to find. It's off Alta Drive on a little road. There's no sign saying "Badlands this way."

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You'll spend plenty of time searching Badlands Golf Club's desert for balls.
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Consider it the warm-up. For that's nothing compared to how hard it is to locate your golf ball on this Johnny Miller and Chi Chi Rodriguez vision of yucks.

Watch your ball go speeding into the desert. See it soar high into the rocks and stop, never to bounce down again. Unless a jackrabbit comes along and dislodges it hours, days or weeks later.

"More than anything people talk about how hard a course it is," clubhouse attendant Mike Guido said.

You could even say Badlands borders on diabolical with some of its two forced desert carry holes.

Only Badlands also gives a lot back. Literally.

This is a golf ball scavenger's version of heaven. At least those who have cacti- and thorn-resistant clothes and one of those crazy long ball retrievers that immediately qualifies the user for social security.

You're going to find a ton of golf balls here. You might not always find yours, but you'll end up discovering another one or three. That's the thing about Badlands Golf Club. It usually giveth more than it taketh away.

"We're three up on golf balls," Pat Shovlin gleefully shouted as our group approached the sixth hole of our first nine. This despite having chunked plenty into Miller's desert of no return.

It's hard to describe Badlands as a "fun" golf course. This 27-hole track is a test, ready with punishment if your driver or putter are at all wayward. The greens are speedy, and there are no mounds routing your ball back into the fairway.

Yet Badlands can be a blast to play. A blast with bruises, but a blast nonetheless.

"I really like this course," Connecticut visitor Joey Connors said. "It kicks some ass."

Probably yours.

This is a Las Vegas course where you need to hit good shots to be rewarded with anything but a groan. Getting on the green on these par 3s is far from given (our group managed it about a quarter of the time).

Badlands Golf Club's fairways are very green (especially for a Vegas area full of weird water rules). From the tees it looks like clear sailing as long as you stay out of the desert rock areas.

Looks can be deceiving.

What you don't see is how thick the rough up, how it swallows up balls and makes punch-outs trying. Combined with the ultra-penalizing desert areas, it seems almost unfair.

"This is true target golf," Guido said. "I try and tell people that you just have to hit it straight."

Guido laughs, and I wonder if he's auditioning for the role of a cartoon villain. Just hit it straight? In Vegas, the land of golfing with a hangover on two hours sleep?

Maybe if you play Outlaw, the newest and tamest of Badlands' three nines, demanded by members who got tired of getting slapped around all day, every day. But if you're just visiting you'll want to take on Badlands Golf Club's Desperado and Diablo courses.

Badlands Golf Club gauntlets

Desperado's No. 9 shows Miller and Chi Chi Rodriguez, who consulted on the Badlands design, at their best, and cruelest.

This is a showy hole with a big desert drop clear off the tee, into a gleaming green fairway, and then another desert canyon clear down to a tucked away plateau green. If you don't mess up on your first swing, you have a really good chance to do it on your second or your third.

It's two great shots, three good ones, or disaster. Johnny Miller and Chi Chi are probably never going to be asked to design a playground.

Badlands Golf Club's Diablo nine is equally dastardly. No. 5 is typical, a long par 3 with a fast, shot-repelling green. Someone decided to give it a more Western feel by putting an old-looking wood barrel near the tee.

There's a house right behind the tee box too. A big one. Badlands may have plenty of desert bite, but it's anything but away-from-it-all. You're playing through a subdivision, and pretty well-to-do one by the looks of it.

In fact, some of the fun here is in gawking at the lavish, spread-out playgrounds on the crests overlooking the course, especially on Diablo.

"Look at that enormous place," Shovlin said, pointing to a mansion Tiger Woods might even consider.

Hey, it's something to do when you're not scavenging for your Pro VI.

Badlands Golf Club: The verdict

Badlands Golf Club gives you something very different in Las Vegas golf. It's a course you'll remember, one that will leave you and your buddies with stories to retell for years.

You'll be laughing at someone for cranking a shot - or 12 - sideways into the desert.

You'll be bragging about that high tee shot that curved around the rock wall and settled nicely into the fairway.

It's an easy golf course to recommend, if not to play.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • review

    George Christiansen CR CGR wrote on: Oct 23, 2007

    Three of us played at the Badlands course the first week in October. The staff was courteous, the food at the restaurant better than most AND the course was everything that it is perported to be... i.e. kind to the better players who hit the ball down the middle, yet punishing for those who err a little on there delivery.
    I've played Club West in Phoenix and a few of the courses out in Palm Springs and chose this course based upon the "Best" desert course ratings. I was not disappointed. When my golfing buddy came back from searching for his errant tee shot and asked me if I had ever seen a ball's cover so chewed up.... I said that I had.... They were the same as those my retriever chewed on while I was practicing in my back yard.
    Great place to test your abilities.... If you bring your own clubs, beware! Hitting balls from any surface that is not Green will damage the heads.