Golfers can feel the history of Sin City at Las Vegas National
LAS VEGAS - Plenty of modern golf courses in southern Nevada will dazzle with spectacular views, impeccable conditions and difficult holes, but few will give you a real sense of Las Vegas history.
One exception is Las Vegas National, one of the few remnants of how life used to be in Sin City. Opened in 1961 and designed by Bert Stamps, the golf course has undergone four name changes over the years, but the feel for those who played here remains, no matter what you call it.
A par-71 that can be tipped out at around 6,800 yards, Las Vegas National may have lost its relevance in modern professional golf, it hasn't lost its legacy. Originally known as the Stardust Country Club when it was owned by the Stardust Hotel and Casino, the venue has played host to some 20 professional tour events and plenty of big-money games over the years. It spans from Mickey Wright winning $2,500 at the 1961 LPGA Championship to Tiger Woods taking home nearly $300,000 at the final Las Vegas Invitational for his first professional win.
But one can only imagine the unofficial money that was won and lost among the high rollers and celebrities on these fairways and greens. And when you play here, you can almost feel the ghosts giving each other a hard time, whether you're on the 18th green or in the circa-1960s clubhouse and lounge, where they undoubtedly settled their bets.
This is Las Vegas golf, plain and simple, how it used to be. It is the genuine article. Located just a couple of miles off the Strip, there are palm trees, generous fairways and water on about half the holes. It's simple golf without tricks. Even the homes around the course are modest by today's standards. Still, you can see how in their day, those who resided around these fairways and greens in these modular dwellings were living in the lap of luxury.
Perhaps the best time to play Las Vegas National - which used to be known as the Sahara Club and Las Vegas Hilton Country Club before 1998 - is during the week. Come out as a single and you're likely to be paired with an old-timer or two who can regale you with stories of celebrity and movie star sightings on the course and in the smoke-filled piano bar of yesteryear. The course was a favorite hangout for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and served as the backdrop for scenes in the movie "Casino," starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone.
But even without its history and old Vegas charm, Las Vegas National is still a solid and enjoyable test of golf. Greens and tees are close, and there are no severe hills, so walking there is a pleasure as well as an option.
The course starts off easy enough with the longest hole on the course at 521 yards and the first of four reachable par 5s. The teeth of the course, however, can be found in the par 3s. Three of them are more than 200 yards, including the 14th, which can be stretched to more than 240 yards. If it plays into the wind, even good players might find themselves hitting driver. A shot anywhere on the green or even into the greenside bunkers brings relief. But hit it long and right, and you'll find a palm tree or two in your way that can even make bogey very difficult.
The par 4s, for the most part, also hold plenty of intrigue. One of the most interesting is the 312-yard 13th. The dogleg right has homes and out-of-bounds to the left of the tee and water off the green. Players who try to drive the green must try to find the front left portion of the green, which isn't fronted by water. But even if they stray a little right and come up short, they're likely to find the beach. Not a bunker, mind you, but a beach that comes out of the water and can be played as a bunker.
Las Vegas National also offers ample practice facilities. A chipping and pitching green to the right of the range also has a practice bunker, and there's a large putting green located outside the clubhouse between the first and 10th tees. The range, located to the right of the first hole, is also lighted and offers extended hours for those who want to take a break from the Strip and relieve some stress by banging a few golf balls. No doubt, those who visited old Stardust more than 40 years ago had the same idea.
April 8, 2008