Shadow Creek Golf Club: Steve Wynn's Wonderland
NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- From the Las Vegas Strip, Interstate 15 heads north towards Utah through a hard baked flatland of desert that can only be described as a wasteland. This hard barren expanse of desert seems well suited for the auto salvage yards, steel scrap iron graveyards, and assorted industrial complexes that dot this unwanted land. What is hard to believe is that out on this godforsaken stretch is the most ambitious, most exclusive, most expensive, and most improbable golf course in the country, Shadow Creek Golf Club.
Shadow Creek golf course is the ultimate extension of all that is Las Vegas. This 18-hole track is the brainchild of Steve Wynn, the flamboyant casino developer who has brought volcanoes, white tigers, dolphins, pirate ships, multi-million dollar water fountains, international art collections, and a drive to create the unimaginable to The Vegas Strip. Wynn's vision, drive, arrogance, and creativity have transformed this city forever. When he turned his attention to golf, he once again broke the mold to build his dream course.
In the mid 80's, Wynn's flair for the extravagant became a beacon for the high rollers that are so crucial to the success of any casino venture. The multimillionaire gamblers flocked to his astounding palaces where their every whim was catered to. The stories are that when a particular CEO of a major Japanese firm lost several millions at The Mirage, Wynn decided that the profits could be used to create another reason for his well-heeled guests to come stay at his properties exclusively. He planned to build a golf course.
But Wynn wouldn't do anything on a small scale. He chose a 350-acre site out in the desert, under the air space of nearby Nellis Air Force Base for added privacy. He hired golf course architect Tom Fazio to help create the layout. He then told Fazio that we wanted this course to have lakes, waterfalls, rolling hillsides, exotic birds, and hundreds of varieties of trees. From here, the story of this course drifts into myths, rumors, and tall tales that have helped to give this 15-year-old golf course as much history as some of the most venerable private clubs in the country.
How to play Shadow Creek
Let's start first with what can be told about Shadow Creek. You aren't going to drive up and see this course. A ten-foot high chain link fence surrounds the entire complex and the only signage is a gold plaque next to the intercom where security will check you out before you are allowed entrance. The golf course was dug into the desert and the earth was piled up along the edge of the fencing so that you can't see in.
You can play Shadow Creek but the only way to do this is to stay at the MGM Mirage Hotel Casino, or one of their other casino properties, in order to earn the privilege of paying the greens fee to play at this absolutely unbelievable facility. Not even ex-presidents can call up for a tee time without staying at the Mirage and goodness knows they have tried.
What do you get for this fee? You will find yourself transported to the greatest golf course created by man. Every hillside, creek, lake, and waterfall was carefully and meticulously built by hand. This lush forest of over 200 varieties of trees forms an exotic reprieve from the glitz and clamor of the Vegas Strip, and the players who come here know from the moment they arrive at the subtle colonial style clubhouse, that this is a special place.
You will also have the opportunity to hear the stories of this fabled golf course. But don't bring your camera, as photos are forbidden at this publicity shy tribute to earthmovers in order to preserve its aura of mystery. Everyone knows what the seventh hole at Pebble Beach looks like but only those who have played at Shadow Creek can appreciate the par-5 16th hole.
The experience that is Shadow Creek begins once your chauffeured limo slips through the front gate. The half-mile drive to the clubhouse winds through a forest of pines, maples, tamaracks, and willows. The green slopes occasionally lower so that you can grab a peak at the course as a Chinese pheasant darts across the fairway. You motor by the driving range and notice how each stall is a private environ surrounded by pines and the landing areas are lushly manicured doglegged fairways to simulate the golf course itself. As you are escorted into the southern style clubhouse, you are left in wonderment. You know you are in Nevada but it looks and feels like Georgia, Illinois, or New Jersey with the huge trees and singing birds.
Shadow Creek opened in 1989 and Wynn established it as both a private club and personal course for his wealthiest "whales," the high-roller clients who are so important to the casino business. High powered celebrities such as Michael Jordan and one ex-president came here to disappear from the glare of the public and be themselves. This spectacular course also drew raves unheard of for a new course as both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest ranked it among the top 10 courses in the world after its first year of existence.
These are the things that can be told about Shadow Creek. But the stories whispered about this place are many. It was rumored that on Tom Fazio's first visit to the site that he questioned whether the type of course that Wynn envisioned could even be built. Wynn increased Fazio's fee and firmly requested that he not doubt what could be done again. Rumors have it that $20 million went into the course, $20 million into the landscaping, and $20 million into the facilities. One story goes that when Wynn saw the trees at the first hole, he demanded that two more be added where a tree was already planted.
The course is structured so that holes run mostly north and south so that the sun won't be in your eyes when you play. I can't tell you too much about the course (I am sworn to uphold that mystique as well) but I can say that it is hard to believe that there is over 50 feet of elevation change on this phenomenal layout. I can only guess how high that waterfall is next to the par 3 17th. I can only wonder how Tom Fazio could make golf holes wander up tree-lined fairways that look like a U.S. Open venue on this drastic chunk of desert. I am certainly amazed at seeing the flowing rock bed streams that seem centuries old with outcropping rocks forcing their way out of the thick, grassy landscape.
It becomes real obvious why this secretive course has become a favorite to some of the world's greatest players. Again, I am not at liberty to mention names but seven of the top 10 players in the world consider Shadow Creek as one of their favorite courses. The stories of great money matches here are endless, but I have no idea if they are true. After all, when it comes to myths and legends, the tales are more important than the truths.
Now owned by MGM Mirage Corp., Shadow Creek continues to be one of the best-maintained venues in all of America. This course ticked off a lot of the old guard when it was ranked among the top courses in the world after only being open for two years. In fact, Golf Digest even changed its ranking criteria to factor in historical significance to keep newer courses in their place. Just be assured to know that if you have the urge to splurge on this high-ticket golf experience you will not be disappointed. You may also hear more tall tales of this fabled layout.
July 27, 2002