Enjoy the tradition of the British Open at Royal Links Golf Club in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- It doesn't take a great deal of imagination at Royal Links Golf Club to get a feel for the history of British Open golf.
There are holes inspired by Prestwick, the golf course that hosted the first Open Championship in 1860. There are holes that pay homage to Turnberry, where Tom Watson rallied late to beat Jack Nicklaus at the 1977 British Open Championship. When you get to no. 8, you'll find a golf hole similar to the par-3 "Postage Stamp" of Royal Troon. And the 10th hole at Royal Links is reminiscent of the famous Road Hole at St. Andrews. Royal Lytham, where Bobby Locke barely made it to the course in time to win the Championship in 1952, as well as holes from Royal Birkdale and Muirfield, also serve as inspirations for this collection.
You'll find all this information and the stories behind them in the handy course guide and yardage book provided by Royal Links. (This makes for good pre-round reading, so arrive well before your tee time.)
Now, all you have to do is add wind and rain.
Well, you can forget the rain most of the time in Southern Nevada. And while the course is mostly Bermuda grass, Royal Links Golf Club does a good job with its mounding and native grasses to create a look of gorse and links-style golf throughout.
The facility is the brainchild of Las Vegas golf developer Bill Walters.
Walters, simply put, loves the game, says Charles Bombard, general manager at Royal Links Golf Club. "This was his tribute. And because this is where he was developing courses, this was the ideal spot."
Forecaddies are not required, but Bombard recommends them. For example, a forecaddie, after seeing you play nine holes, can give you a good line on how much to bite off the dogleg right of Royal Links' "Road Hole" after making the turn. They can also help you locate your ball, should you stray from the fairway into the high grasses.
As to which holes are most memorable, Bombard says it usually depends on what kind of round a golfer has.
"If played well, you will most likely talk about your best hole," says Bombard. "If you've had a bad day, you're talking about something like the hole inspired by the Postage Stamp, which can eat you for lunch. You might have walked away with a six when you were sure you were going to have a three."
Whatever your level of success, you walk away from Royal Links feeling like you've played a different brand of golf than we usually find here in the United States and certainly in Las Vegas. Many of the shots are blind or partially blind, which makes taking a caddie so helpful.
For example, on the 16th hole, which is inspired by the 15th at Carnoustie, the drive is critical. If it's playing downwind, the 454 yards doesn't seem so daunting, but you have to pick the right line to set up a good approach. You have to be able to figure out how much of the dogleg to cut off or where to bail out. It all depends on how you shape the ball. If you hit it straight or with a fade, you might be aiming into the tall grass on the left off the tee. If you hook the ball, two pot bunkers on the right are the target, but you must avoid the bunkers at all costs. Even with a good drive, you could be looking at a long iron or fairway wood into a bunker-protected green that may or may not be visible depending on your tee shot.
The round winds up with a terrific risk-reward 515-yard par 5, appropriately enough inspired by the 14th at the Old Course at St. Andrews. The tee shot is easy enough if you avoid the pot bunker in the middle with plenty of fairway both left and right. If you go for it in two, you've got a severe uphill approach shot to a large undulating green. Miss it and you're looking at a tight-lie chip to some potentially difficult pin placements. In most cases, a lay-up second shot with a 100-yard approach is the safest and easiest option.
But aside from the collection of British Open type holes, you get a sense as you drive through the gates that you're in for a special experience. The clubhouse is literally a small castle with many decorations and furnishing personally picked out by Walters' wife, Susan, who worked with Roger Maxwell of In Celebration of Golf in choosing the decor.
Royal Links prides itself on its service, and Bombard points out that the club is well equipped to serve large groups and corporate tournaments. And every single guest is treated like a high roller, he says.
"We can do all the thinking for them," Bombard says. "If the airline lost their luggage, for example, we can replace everything they need -- apparel, clubs, shoes, you name it."
Inside the castle, you'll find Stymie's Pub with authentic ales and draughts on tap as well as an extensive selection of Scotches and blends. There is also the normal selection of domestic and imported beer in bottles. And the pub is a great place for a shot of brandy in front of the fireplace before a chilly round in the wintertime, all the more adding to the experience.
March 13, 2008