Las Vegas National Golf Club: Where Tradition Still Reigns

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- The massive sprawling city that is Las Vegas has spread across the desert like a fungal growth as it works its tentacles of roads, housing tracts, strip malls and casinos in every direction. As far as the eye can see, the massive signs that herald the next great casino attraction scream above the hardened landscape. It is difficult to imagine what this area must have been like in the early fifties when the first properties began to take shape along Desert Inn Road and Tropicana Avenue.

Even though this city is one of the fastest growing metropolises in the country, as well as one of the youngest, Las Vegas still has a past and a tradition. That tradition is captured at the sublime, Las Vegas National Golf Club on Desert Inn Road, just off of the Strip.

As you pull into the lot at Las Vegas National, the sense of the sixties is evident in the rectangular pastel colored stucco clubhouse that might have seemed modernistic back then, but now is a charming reminder of an architecturally dated style that says but one thing, "Welcome to Old School Las Vegas".

The clubhouse is long and low, with wall to ceiling windows that look out on the lush fairways of the course. This par 71 layout was built in 1961 and designed by Bert Stamps. Stamps was a caddy at the Rancho CC in L.A. in the thirties and was an excellent amateur golfer in his day who dabbled in golf course design. This course was known as the Sahara Country Club when it opened and he followed up by designing the now defunct Tropicana Country Club in 1962.

This course was the ultimate modern course back then and it became THE event site for Vegas. Las Vegas National became the home for the Sahara Invitational that, in its heyday, was one of the top paydays on the PGA Tour. Many tour players played this event not only for the prize money, but there were always plenty of side games before and after the tournament where players' sponsors would run their horse against the hucksters and hustlers that made Vegas move in the early days of Sin City.

The old PR photos from the event would show the winner holding a cup full of Silver Dollars as the prize and it helped to bolster the image of "Get rich quick in Vegas" which still continues to fuel this towns' growth today.

The wall in the restaurant has portraits of the greats who have played in this storied event including Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Finsterwald, January, and Boros. Again in the nineties, Las Vegas National was one of the courses used for the Las Vegas Invitational and a portrait of Tiger Woods hangs here also, as this was the site of his first PGA Tour victory back in 1996.

What isn't honored but is no doubt ingrained into the woodwork of this unassuming building are the tales of hustlers setting games and the untold thousands that surely exchanged hands after god-knows-what wild betting game had been completed out on the fairways. Golf and gambling have always gone together and this had to be the hot spot for it in the Rat Pack Days of the sixties. You can imagine Frank and Deano having a couple after a round at the bar.

Las Vegas National has all of the look and feel of the era. From the opening hole, the wide green look is a throwback to the Augusta look every course wanted. Only three tees are found here, another signal of the past before the need for five sets of tees for every player level that is now commonplace. This course has had years of care and the course conditions are excellent. The final sign of age is the mature trees that provide shade and shadows, something that a lot of the new courses in Vegas just don't have.

This course is very popular with the local crowd because of these factors as well as the various fee schedules that allow them to obtain discounted golf. Be ready to join up with someone who can give a lot of insight into Vegas.

But don't think that this course is just a Muni pushover. The large trees accentuate the doglegs and there is o.b. along many of the sixties era homes that are lined by fences. There is no better testimony to the challenge at Las Vegas National than the fact that when Tiger won his first tour event here with a -19 total, he shot just 1 under par 70 here.

The course to 6,418 yards from the men's tees to 6,815 yards from the championship tees. The course opens and closes with healthy par 5's but it is the blend of strong par threes that you will really remember. Each one offers a well-protected target by either water or bunkers and the 16th is a true knee knocker that plays to 222 yards from the back tees.

This par three features a deep dip with water, forty yards short of the green. This creek runs at an angle to the green and the hole looks like a slight dogleg left from the tee. Even from the front tee, this hole is 190 yards of challenge. The 11th is equally challenging with the raised green surrounded by mature trees that can grab an errant hit.

Throughout the course, you will be blessed with good lies as the turf is great. Even the rough areas are cut so that your ball will sit up and be found. There are no natural rough areas or rocky desert lies on the outer reaches of this layout. Also, while you cruise this course, you get treated to a jumbled collection of sixties era houses that were certainly the rage in design in their heyday but now just border on cheesy with lawn sculptures, designer pools, and cactus gardens. You can get a glimpse of the home that Robert Di Niro and Sharon Stone called home in the movie "Casino" just off the 18th hole.

This all adds up to a great place to see and feel vintage Las Vegas. This is also a place to experience classic style golf in a comfortable setting. Las Vegas National Golf Club won't be one of the places you thought you should play if you visit Vegas. But you won't be disappointed if you do.

Directions- From the Strip (Las Vegas Blvd.) go to Desert Inn Road and head east. Course is on right one block from Maryland Pkwy.

RATES- call the pro shop for rates as these vary greatly from season to season.

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
  • gol LV National

    Melvin Sullivan wrote on: Nov 30, 2011

    Played here 11/28/2011-Excellent course in great condition. Staff very friendly and helpful. Great value


  • Las Vegas National

    Richard Smeby wrote on: Apr 14, 2011

    Played on 4/11/2011. Course was in awful condition from tee to green. One of the worst public courses we've played for the rate. Feel ripped off.
    On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being great I would rate it a 1 at best.
    Don't waste your time and money.