Desert Inn Golf Club: A Legend Laid to Rest

By Diana Rowe Martinez, Contributor

Desert Inn is no longer in business

LAS VEGAS, NV - On October 15, 1952, a legend was born--the Desert Inn Golf Club on the Las Vegas Strip. And in December of 2001, the legend will be laid to rest.

I entered the hallowed 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.

Diana Rowe MartinezDiana Rowe Martinez, Contributor

A Denver-based freelance writer, Diana Rowe Martinez is a member of Colorado Travel Writers and writes for other publications, both print and online, in the industries of travel, nonfiction, and business. She writes a monthly column for a Denver based newspaper, Singles Entertainment.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • memorabilia

    Roberta Sue Duke wrote on: Oct 20, 2015

    I have a cigarette lighter with Desert Inn, Tournament of Champions.
    Any information would be appreciated.


  • DI

    Sean Hiscock wrote on: Jul 17, 2015

    Played the DI in 1994. Scored at my handicap but was really impressed with the condition. I would love to play it again but I guess that is not to be now.
    The staff were excellent to deal with. I still have the tag they gave me.


  • DI golf course

    Jack forde wrote on: Nov 28, 2012

    I worked at the DI in 1969 four four years and played the course as an employee for $8.00 a round ,I won the employees tournament in 1970
    I have a pithing wedge I would sell with the cactus and sun logo on the club $500 obo
    If any one is interested


    • RE: DI golf course Las Vegas

      Michael Richey wrote on: Jan 26, 2014

      I worked at the DI in 1975-6. Coach "Chub" Drakulich got me the job.Coach was a super nice man. Loved that cigar! I worked in the members club storage dept with Kit Dickenson, Little Ralph, Chick and Ringo. Head pro Don Welch treated my room mate Jeff and myself like gold! Joe was the starter on the first tee. We played the DI so many times I couldn't count. We just loved it! So much history, a lot of celebs. I had the time of my life there. I will never forget Coach Drakulich , Don Welch and the "boys" at The DI.


    • RE: DI golf course

      Bob Vitti wrote on: Jan 2, 2013

      Any chance you remember a "Sands Invitational" in your years out there?


  • Desert Inn Golf course

    vernon a.(pat) Waite wrote on: Apr 24, 2012

    I played this course back when they had tournaments. I went on a golf package $4oo.oo dollars, room and golf for four days,
    You can't be that. Now it cost $350.00 to play. In fact you cannot get to the grounds unless you play it.
    Pat Waite


  • golf

    Bret M. Clark wrote on: Jul 8, 2008

    I first played the course in 1988 and the last time in 1999 I will miss it for sure, great times memories.


  • Desert Inn

    mary wrote on: May 13, 2008

    I was sad that they took it down it was a beautiful hotel. The last time i was in it was right before they imploded it. I think it is sad they are getting rid of all of the original hotels ,i think it takes
    away from the history


  • golf course

    william regan wrote on: Jan 18, 2008

    I just stayed and played at the newly designed land that was once the great Dessert Inn. While I can appreciate the condition and service provided by this new resort, I am afraid the history and classic design which provided so many great times for so many golfers has been burried with the rest of the Dessert Inn's formidable past.
    The new course, as fancy as it is, pales in design and concept compared with the old course. It is in phenominal condition, but so many holes are very alike. The Fazzio design is always the same, no matter where you find it. He sure likes waterfalls! I will always treasure the old DI and everything that came with it. Irreplacable.


    • RE: golf course

      Rob Leavy wrote on: Oct 1, 2011

      I worked at the course when it closed. i remember the last day as a sad one. the day after, walking the course in its solitude was so strange as it stood silent and beautiful awaiting its demise. i miss the guys i worked with who kept her beautiful. the new course is great as i worked there too. but nothing was the same. i miss it.


      • RE: RE: golf course

        Lucia wrote on: Jan 30, 2020

        WHY was it closed?? Been searching with no answers as to WHY it was closed.


      • RE: RE: golf course

        James Ralli wrote on: Sep 15, 2018

        My cousin a friend and myself and a person who drove in from LA who joined us were fortunate to play the DI the day it closed!It was quite sad to see the look on the employees faces basically in tears!


Comments Leave a comment