Give TPC Canyons a chance and it's bound to be a surprising favorite

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - At first impression, the Tournament Players Club at the Canyons comes across much like Sin City itself: a showy spectacle that's more than a little shallow. This tone is set by the second hole, a 196-yard par-3 that's a straight shot across an impressively deep canyon to a desert green that seems to float in the air.

18 Holes | Public | Par: 71 | 7104 yards
TPC Canyons golf course -  No. 18
TPC Canyons finishes with a little water and more striking green.
TPC Canyons golf course -  No. 18TPC Canyons golf course - island green

On this day, a group of golfers is lamenting their lack of a functioning camera at the tee. Right about then, TPC Canyons marketing director Joe Massanova pulls up in a cart and walkie talkies the dilemma back to the clubhouse. Within two minutes, another cart comes speeding up, disposable camera in tow. After one of the guys buys the camera and takes a few shots that show him and his buddies seemingly standing on the edge of the earth, the round continues.

Forget club selection. This is about postcard selection.

"We should really put a camera stand right here," Massanova said, laughing.

Right about then, you're certain this is going to be one of those Las Vegas rounds. An experience where showmanship screens out any semblance of style seems assured. And it's shaping up as a slightly disappointing show at that. For anyone seasoned in the ways of Las Vegas golf could tell you that Canyons No. 2 pales in comparison to the dramatic drops Tom Weiskopf works into Lake Las Vegas' The Falls, particularly No. 13.

Suddenly, TPC looks like comedian George Wallace the night after Jerry Seinfeld performs on The Strip. It's showy, but it's still not the show.

Stick with TPC Canyons, however. If you do, it will not be long before you're appreciating the subtle touches in its design that bring out most of the clubs in your bag.

"When I first played TPC at the Canyons, I hated it," said Dennis Silvers, a Vegas golf radio and TV show host who leans toward traditional tracks. "Now it's probably one of my favorite courses.

This is a course with the power to convert. For all its bluster -- and this stark desert track sticking out in the middle of the Summerlin development carries plenty of bluster -- there are many strategically rewarding holes. It's not all shooting over canyons (though if your game goes queasy at that sort of thing, this probably isn't the place for you).

This is a course where you can run through ProV1s like they're range balls, racking up an astronomical hidden round charge. But it's also a course where a good golfer can get even more befuddled by the traditional design elements. Like obstacles actually set up to affect the average right-handed golfer's natural fade.

Unlike many architects who seem to put most of the tough stuff left in a bizarre attempt to please the bogey right-hander picturesquely without fazing his swing, Bobby Weed routinely challenges right.

"Now they know what we go through every single time," said Derek Richardson, a left-handed golfer from Nashville. "It's kind of nice for a change."

This realization comes later, however. First, you deal with the start that seals the Canyons' first, and for many everlasting, impression. The desert green on No. 2 is quickly followed by long, daunting canyon carries (over 200 yards from the back tees) on No. 3 and No. 5. Five holes in and you're already starting to wonder when the tests of manhood are going to stop.

"It can be a little intimidating," said Chris Burk, a not-so-slight Vegas attorney who does not usually mind distance.

The intimidation factor is bolstered by the starter's warnings about making sure you're playing the right tee. This is beyond the usual spiel. He makes you feel like you're liable to fall into a canyon if you kid anyone about your handicap.

Soon, you're caught up in the setting. This is one of the more rugged-looked courses you'll find. Its starkness contrasts sharply with the meticulously-maintained grass on the fairways and greens. Throw in the striking difference between the bustling suburb streets you take to the Canyons and it adds up to a surreal feel.

Besides the big forced carries, there are a number of little ravines and desert brush areas. All leading up to elevated greens that reject approach shots as often as they accept. In fact, if you consistently hit the ball above the hole, you're liable to feel like you're in one of those Capital One David Spade commercials.

No, nyet, nada.

Balls land high and spin off. There are driveways with less roll than these greens.

This is the type of thing that led the Senior Tour to rise up in mass protest back when an event was held here a few years ago. You do have a decent chance of seeing one of the Vegas-based PGA players out here on their special, reserved back practice tees (Chris Riley's the biggest name among the semi regulars). But even these guys know how fickle the Canyons can be when the wind picks up or the pin's placed somewhere unusual.

"Those greens will test you," PGA player Dean Wilson said, between getting his swings in. "That's what you want."

They'll surprise you too. Nothing showy about these greens. Just tough, ornery fellas with some character.

The verdict

The Canyons is like that obnoxious loudmouth you cannot stand at first meeting who turns out to be one of your best friends. It comes across over the top, contrived and not even the most original contrived, and ends up pleasing with all of its small touches.

This isn't a cheap round. Consider what you're looking for before automatically laying down two bills. Canyons isn't so unique that you'll be talking about it forever, impending tee-side camera stands aside. It is a course that will let you test all the shots in your arsenal, leave you satisfied but spent.

The service gives it another nudge in the worth-it pile, Whether it's the marketing director going the extra mile to make sure a group leaves happy and souvenir-photo packing, the young woman behind the counter at the low-key but nice cafeteria-style dinning room or the kids rushing to meet your car almost before it's pulled up to the bag drop, this is clearly a well-oiled operation.

And a friendly one. You actually feel welcome on this high-end course.

Even the starter's speech about the importance of choosing the right tee gives way to story telling. It turns out the guy's writing a book. This isn't an LA script deal though. He doesn't hit you with details, unless you ask. He just makes you smile.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This course is now called TPC Las Vegas.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Total package

    Larry Rogers wrote on: Jul 20, 2005

    When I played this course, the staff treated me and my wife like royalty. Granted, Vegas is set up to make visitors feel pampered (although I'm local), but the staff was genuinely helpful, friendly, and professional throughout the entire round - without needling us.
    The course was well kept and tidy. The pace was crisp, but unhurried. I didn't find the course itself overly challenging, but the greens were very difficult. I think I 5 putted the 10th, after hitting the green in regulation. I'm normally a terrible putter, but this course really punished me on the greens.
    But despite my bad putting, I had a great time and a memorable experience. The entire course is user friendly and fun, as long as you don't expect to register your lowest score. I would definately say its worth the green fee if you are visiting.