Badlands Golf Club: True Desert Golf in Vegas

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

LAS VEGAS, NV -- The terrain of the desert floor where the City of Las Vegas sits is wide and flat. Here the famous strip has grown in an unabated manner. Off to the northwest, the massive mountains that ring the valley rise and at the base of the mountains is a craggy, rocky, landscape that has been carved and gouged by torrential runoffs from the infrequent rains that pelt these mountains during the deserts "monsoon season" in mid winter. Thousands of years of erosion action have cut gullies, washes, and rocky outcroppings that would seem like the most uninviting landscape imaginable.

This is uninviting land except when it is looked upon by creative golf course designers. These sinewy canyons only need some imagination and a bit of green to be turned into the ultimate fantasy playground for golf. These visions can create something beautiful and bring to life a course that can be called only one thing, The Badlands Golf Club of Las Vegas.

The Badlands is a 27-hole facility on the northwest side of town off of the Summerlin Highway. It is a region of Las Vegas that has sprung up in growth in the last five years. This fascinating course was built in 1995 and was a colaborative effort between as unusual a mix of personalities imaginable, Johnny Miller and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Miller, the former tour player and golf's premier television talking head also has developed a substantial golf architectural firm. Chi Chi Rodriquez, a stalwart tour player and Senior Tour star, has for years beat the drum for the love of the game of golf.

The idea that these two vibrant personalities could come together and let their thoughts run wild on this mish mass of land makes you wish that you could just be a part of a few of the conversations between them. These are two of the ultimate quote machines in the game and it must have been one fun ride as they brought this course to life.

From the clubhouse your first site is of the stark tan hues of the landscape framing ribbons of green grass that seem to be poured between the hardened ground. This is true desert golf in a rugged setting. Toss in a little bit of a breeze and simmer over the Southern Nevada heat and you have all of the elements for challenging golf.

The Badlands Golf Club opened in 1995 with eighteen holes and a third nine-hole tract was added to three years ago. The stark terrain was definitely a factor in the naming of the first two nines, Desperado and Diablo. The original tract can only be defined as the ultimate in target golf. The target is there in front of you, all green and inviting, but to miss the mark sends your ball off to the dramatic wasteland of arroyos, crevices, and rock-strewn desert expanses.

"This course is demanding but fair. The original nines are 50% fairway and 50% natural terrain and you have to be careful where you hit your shots. The new nine, The Outlaw Nine, is a lot wider and funnels your shots back to the fairways. We get a lot of repeat players who come back here just to conquer our course," explained PGA Head Professional Jeff Levin.

Out at the range, you catch the glimpse of the crisp cut edges where grass and desert meet. This sharp defining line makes a great visual statement. But be sure you spend some time at the range and get your "A" swing grooved. You will want it out on the course.

There are four tees to choose from and the course plays up front at around 2,600 yards for each nine, up 3,500 yards for each nine from the back tees. What is more revealing are the slope ratings of the combinations of nines. The original pairing of the Desperado/Diablo has a slope rating of 122 from the men's tees and 133 from the back, while a pairing of the Desperado/Outlaw brings those slopes down to 120 and 125 respectively.

The course controls which pairing of nines you will be playing that day by your tee time. Generally speaking, an early morning tee time (before 10 a.m.) can get you the original pair to play. But as they run over 60,000 rounds a year through this facility, keeping things moving takes a solid control on what course groups are on. If you want to play the original layout be sure to call in advance.

The original holes are defined by the sight of the island-like tee boxes that look like green carpets that were left stranded in the desert. Almost every hole puts you in the position to have to carry the ragged desert to find the fairway and any errant drive is heading for trouble. This is not a place for the big hitter to try and overpower the course. Architect Miller puts a stop to that very quickly and you soon learn to put the ball where he wants you to and learn to rely on solid iron play to score.

The greens are relatively large and are quick. At least Miller felt a need to give the player a good target because missing the green can lead to big trouble. A perfect example is the par 3 8th holes on the Desperado nine. This hole plays 169 yards from the Blue Tees and the green has a large bail out area way left. A shot at the pin has to carry the rock walls fronting the green and a deep dip down to the wash below.

The next hole is a 541 yard par 5 form the tips and after knocking up this ascending fairway you will come to the challenge of heading to the green which is draped on a cliff edge. The waste area in front of this huge green is thirty feet deep and thirty yards wide so you HAVE to get it there or you are dropping another ball. This is true desert golf.

The scenery around the course is wonderful, but it certainly was better when the course first opened in 1995 when there were no housing developments or casinos anywhere around the site. Today, Vegas has caught up and houses line the course. But if you are going to play golf in Vegas get used to this. It is a sight you will find everywhere. One advantage is that if you want to stay close to the Badlands you only have to go across the street to The Sun Coast Casino and get a room. And good luck at the tables.

DIRECTIONS- From the Strip take Interstate 15 North to Route 95 North. Take Summerlin to Rampart Ave. and go left to Alta Drive. RATES- Rates vary greatly from month to month so call for rates.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • golf equipment rental

    Matthew Klimoski wrote on: Sep 4, 2006

    Are there any golf stores in LV that rent clubs at a reasonable price? Most of the courses rent them for a round but are very $$. For trips to both Palm Springs and Tucson I rented from a local golf shop for a much better price. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


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    Eduardo Varela wrote on: Mar 13, 2006

    My name is Eduardo Varela and I work for the magazine "Ve" of Travel Connection in Mexico City. Im Working on an article about the best ten courses in Las Vegas and I would like to know if you would be able to send me some information about that an some photos in 300 dpi high resolution in order to complete my article. my e-mail is Thank you for your attention and I´ll be waiting for your response


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    James E Rhodes wrote on: Nov 10, 2004

    the stories are good and informatinve but lacking in that you should list the prices too.


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      sean s hogue wrote on: Oct 27, 2005

      I agree 100% !!