Nicklaus, Sarazen and Old Tom Morris: Meet them at Royal Links Golf Club
LAS VEGAS - The idea seems a little preposterous at first: a golf course emulating the best of the dignified, understated courses in Great Britain showcased in Las Vegas, birthplace of bikini bull riding?
But when you think about it, it all begins to make sense. A replica course - sorry, an "inspired-by" course - takes the talent of others and offers it to people who may never see the original.
Las Vegas has loads and loads of talent, but very little of it comes from an original place. Las Vegas is a gaudy replica of the world's libido.
All of this is not to demean the Royal Links Golf Club. In fact, there could hardly be anywhere in southern Nevada where one can spend a more enjoyable day on a golf course. Double that if you are into the game's history.
Royal Links is, of course, inspired by the great courses in England, Ireland and Scotland that hosted and will host British Opens, and tries to be authentic down to the statue of Old Tom Morris and English phone booths on the course that you use to call in advance food or drink orders.
The holes are not exact replicas because of copyright laws, but they're close enough.
"When they play the British Open next year, you can pull out your little book and visualize that hole," said forecaddie Mike Tousa.
Or, to give another example: say you enter the Hell Bunker on No. 18, which was inspired by the 14th hole at St. Andrews. You may remember when Jack Nicklaus went in there during the Open in 1996 and came out with an 11.
When a TV announcer asked him how he could have made such a ridiculously high score, Nicklaus said: "Well, I made a pretty damn good putt."
That joke will seem funnier to you if you've seen the Hell Bunker up close and personal.
Every hole has that kind of history, much of it more ancient. Like No. 8, inspired by Royal Troon's famed "postage stamp," the same hole Gene Sarazen stroked a hole-in-one on his 75th birthday, calling it quits afterward for tournament play.
Royal Links Golf Club's third hole was inspired by No. 2 at Prestwick, site of the first British Open in 1860, for heaven's sake. No. 10 is a near-replica of St. Andrews' famed "Road Hole," one of the key differences being you can take a drop if you hit over the green and your ball lands on the concrete cart path.
Turnberry's fifth hole was the inspiration for No. 15 at Royal Links, bringing back memories of the classic battle between Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the '77 Open.
You get the idea.
Royal Links Golf Club: The verdict
All of the 18 holes at Royal Links Golf Club share common characteristics. There is absolutely no water, for example, a rarity for a modern course.
Despite all the cozy sentimentality, Royal plays hard. The rough is, well, rough. There are places where the wild Bermuda and fescue are waist-high. If you miss the fairways, most of which are mounded along the borders, you'll be thinking John Deere instead of Old Tom Morris.
The other serious hazards are the deep, sod-walled pot bunkers. If you have the misfortune to land in one of these, you could be hitting sideways or even backward. Keep an attentive eye on these nasty devils.
No. 16, a near-replica of Carnoustie's 15th hole, is the most difficult hole on the course. It's a 454-yard par-4 that gives people fits. The landing area for driver is about 13 yards wide, with the second shot anywhere from 180-230 yards to a green that is not receptive to fairway woods or long irons. Then there are those pot bunkers along the right side.
"You get in there, this hole is over," Tousa said.
Royal Links Golf Club's greens come in all shapes and sizes, as you might expect with a course drawn from so many different layouts. There are grass swales and collection areas and the fairways are rolling and well-tended.
So even though there may be plenty of people who play this course for the nostalgia, it will definitely test your golf skills, particularly your short game and shot-making. You'll be using most of the clubs in your bag.
September 23, 2004