Reflection Bay: Jack Nicklaus design puts a mirror to the best of Las Vegas golf
HENDERSON, Nev. - Simply put, if you could only play one golf course on a trip to southern Nevada, Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas would be on a very short list of candidates.
Site of the annual Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge since its 1998 opening, Reflection Bay has every element you want for a memorable golf experience - superb conditioning, great design and spectacular scenery. As the second Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at Lake Las Vegas, Reflection Bay is the only one open to the public. The other Nicklaus course here is the private SouthShore Golf Club, which opened in 1996 and hosted the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge the first two years. A third course, the Tom Weiskopf-designed Falls Course, opened in 2002 and provides the perfect complement to Reflection Bay. A fourth course, designed by Tom Fazio, is still in the works.
But Reflection Bay is arguably the gem of Lake Las Vegas, a 3,592-acre resort community built around a crystal-clear 320-acre lake. This course is more than just a collection of dazzling holes. It truly does reflect the splendor of the resort, which includes luxury hotel accommodations, spa facilities, retail shops, casinos and restaurants. Named as one of the top 100 courses you can play by Golf Magazine, it's a layout that starts well and only gets better. At the end of each nine, it's easy to understand how the course got its name as the last three holes of the front and the 17th and 18th follow the northern shoreline of the lake, fronting the property of the luxurious Hyatt Regency perched above the water.
At 7,261 yards, this par 72 will test the best players. However, five sets of tees and generous fairways make it enjoyable for nearly all skill levels.
Still, it's tougher than your average resort course. There are several forced carries, even from the front tees, although they should be manageable by anyone who can get the ball airborne. Higher handicappers, however, will still want to come armed with plenty of pellets and even good players should come prepared if they don't bring their best.
Clearly, though, this course isn't about bringing you to your knees, but rather bringing you back. Golfers start the experience by following a stream to a four-acre lake next to the first tee. The first few holes follow desert canyons until the course works its way back down to the lake.
One of the first really solid tests is the 528-yard, par-5 fifth. It's short enough for long hitters to reach in two, but plenty perilous, enough so that even good players will be happy with par if they choose to play it by hitting the green in with the regulation three shots. That's because there is a stream that runs down the entire right side, coming into play in several areas where the fairway narrows and to the right of a severely undulating green. Even from 100 yards, a sharp wedge game is a must to avoid the cascading water and bunkers that guard this green.
The seventh hole, a tough 452-yard par 4, provides the first good view of the lake. It's sort of a lay-up off the tee in the sense that a water hazard that crosses the fairway shortens the tee shot as you go right. If you can sneak a driver down the left side, you could be left with a club as short as 7-iron to this well-bunkered green that bumps into the shoreline left, but most players will wind up hitting a long iron or fairway wood approach.
By the eighth, a 199-yard par 3 that plays over a good portion of the lake, you are fully immersed. With huge bunkers in front and in the back, there's a little wiggle room for error, but not much. Both bunkers are deep, and it's not far-fetched to hit from one bunker to the next - or worse yet, into the water behind both of them.
The ninth, a 429-yard par 4, also plays on the shores of the lake before you make the turn in front of the hotel. However, there's plenty more water on the 10th, a short par 4 that plays to a semi-island fairway and green completely fronted by water.
The rest of the back nine, like the front, has plenty of solid holes. The 13th is one of the more interesting with a bunker in the middle of the fairway, some 260 yards off the tee. If you don't believe in the golf gods, just aim at it and see if you don't hit it.
Although only the last two holes of the back nine play along the lake, they may be the most memorable.
The 17th is a 164-yard par 3 that plays mostly over water, depending on shot shape. A trademark of many Nicklaus par-3s, this dogleg right features a peninsula green mostly surrounded by water. If the wind blows from the right like it often does, golfers can choose to ride the wind completely over the water or hit a hard fade (or hook for lefties) down the left side to try to take the water out of play. Either way makes the hole interesting with two large bunkers guarding the left side of the green.
And finally, like many really good courses, Reflection Bay ends with a stellar par 5. At 561 yards from the back, this dogleg right around the water is a birdie opportunity for anyone who can hit three good shots in a row or for the big hitters who attempt it in two shots. Still, there's plenty of danger, starting with the tee shot over water. Three bunkers about 260 yards off the back tee provide good visuals to aim at or away from. A maze of bunkering down the right side near the shoreline frames approach shots but can also catch any wayward shots before they head to the water.
In short, the 18th is more fun than difficult, leaving most with the opportunity to hit the proverbial "shot that brings you back." But even for those who don't conquer the 18th, the views of Lake Las Vegas alone are enticing enough for a return visit.
October 16, 2008