Desert Inn Golf Club: A Legend Laid to Rest
Desert Inn is no longer in business
I entered the hollow ground of this golf course with trepidation and barely contained excitement. Since its beginning, golf's greatest players, from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, to Greg Norman and Tiger Woods have played a round on these infamous fairways, and I would be rubbing--okay walking--upon these sacred fairways and greens.
The Las Vegas Strip is crowded with casinos bursting at the seams and edging the pedestrian walkways, and all claim to have the "loosest slots" or the "biggest payoffs" in their efforts to entice the tourists. The Strip is a land of plenty--plenty of casinos, shows, restaurants and shops, but less than plentiful on the Strip is land. Land is valuable and hard to come by. When you have a parcel of land worth billions of dollars dedicated to the not-nearly-so-profitable game of golf, well, the numbers just don't add up.
Thus is the dilemma of Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts. Wynn Resorts includes the Desert Inn Golf Club, the defunct hotel and surrounding land, as well as Shadow Mountain Golf Course, to name a few. His employees are adamantly loyal and speak of Mr. Wynn's utmost respect for the golf game, and they feel quite certain his decision will be the right one. Personally, I wouldn't want to be in his golf shoes, unless of course, it was to spend some of his hard earned "dilemma" myself.
Desert Inn (DI) is the only golf layout remaining on the Strip and its fairways are located just outside the ghost-town remains of Desert Inn Hotel & Casino. The DI's legendary layout has been home to more than 35 professional tour championships, including the first PGA Tournament of Champions in 1953, just one year after the course opened. DI continued to host the PGA Tournament through 1966. Winners of this prestigious PGA event have included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Souchak, Gene Littler and Sam Snead. Pictures of these infamous olden days, with equally well-known celebrities like John Wayne and Bob Hope, hang on the walls of the restaurant and bar.
The PGA Tournament's first winner, Al Besselink, collected his $10,000 in silver dollars presented in a wheelbarrow rolled out to the 18th green, and "legend" relates he promptly lost his winnings inside the casino later that night.
DI's 1952 opening was an immediate hit with the Hollywood golfing crowd of the 50's, who basked in the lights and ambience of the "Old" Las Vegas. Bandleader Louis Prima and other well knowns of that era bought luxurious homes along the course, homes that are now being demolished. According to developer Irwin Molasky, who headed this project, these homes contained the nation's first bona fide golf course community. How's that for history in the making?
The now defunct Desert Inn Hotel & Casino shields its course like the statues that guard the entrance to the tomb in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the golf course is open and still doing business, at least through the end of this year.
Surrounded by scores of towering palms and mature trees, this world famous course is rich with tradition. The 7,193-yard, par 72 course features sharp doglegs, ocean beach sand, and water borders nine of the eighteen holes. Each golf cart is equipped with ProLink electronic information service, to guide you through the course and act as your "personal" caddy. This is a handy-dandy tool that profiles each hole with tips and yardages in front of you, leaving behind the "just-how-far-am-I-to-the-hole-and-where-are-the-markers" guessing game.
Your first lesson begins at Hole 1 with a 442-yard dogleg right par-4 with bunkers guarding both sides of the landing area. Second shots force you to carry a small lake guarding the front of a large double green, half of which is the 10th hole. The next two holes are straightforward--stay on the fairways and out of the trees. The 4th's par 3 appearances are deceiving. A 183-yarder seems reachable and it is, but the 50-yard-long green is contoured and will add strokes to your putting game. The longest hole is Hole 5 at 587 yards straight ahead with the Stratosphere providing the backdrop scenery, and those mature trees mocking those wayward slicers.
One of the wettest is Hole 7, a hole I've dubbed the "Treasure Island" hole. Treasure Island Casino & Hotel soars behind the green and most importantly, your handy "fishing golf pole" will net many extra "treasures"--golf balls. This 214-yard, par 3 is a long carry across the lake to an undulating heavily bunkered and narrow green encompassing 153-feet of putting surface. This hole is annually rated as one of the hardest holes on the tour when hosted by DI.
Hole 10's 518-yard par 5 starts off the back 9 with an interesting dogleg right. The dogleg bend is bunker protected with a nice lake at the top of the dogleg extending all the way to the green on that side. Oh, and then there's the bunkers on the left of the green. Trees tower on the left, so fairway play is a must, a challenge for players of all levels and a reason to drink for everyone else.
Another difficult hole is 14, a left dogleg without the ability to cut off because of the large tree limbs hanging on that side of the fairway. An iron shot off the tee really is your best shot, leaving your second shot with a long, straight approach to the well-bunkered green.
The finishing hole is another beauty, the view further enhanced with The Strip in the horizon. This 436-yard par 4 doglegs right around a lake with large pine trees, out-of-bounds and bunkers on the left. Water snakes right to guard that side of the green, another mind-boggling test as you finish up your day at Desert Inn.
With an exciting location such as this one, Desert Inn has many stories untold and more history to be made. One can only hope that nostalgia and love of a good golf game will outweigh Wynn's decision to demolish this fine course. Unfortunately, business decisions may play a bigger part in this game of finance. A press release announcing the final outcome of the course is scheduled for some time in July.
But don't delay. If you haven't played Desert Inn lately, now is the time to plan, perhaps, your last trip to play a round at this legend in golf history.
When you're golf game is complete and you've had enough consolation drinks to tide you over, skip on over to The Strip's Venetian Resort and Casino Grand Canal Shoppes, a short walk or taxi ride away. Visit the game's most celebrated golf shops, voted the 2000 Best Hotel Shop.
In Celebration of Golf, where you'll find a putting-like-green carpeted shop, rustic golf pictures, golf apparel, unique home furnishings, fine art, golf antiques, finely crafted accessories, books, novelties, playing equipment, indoor practice facilities, rarities and more.
January 1, 2002