With matured greens and new name, TPC Las Vegas offers a PGA TOUR-caliber challenge

By Kevin Iole, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - When you pay your green fees and drive up to the first tee of a golf course, the last thing you want to do is be greeted by a starter who believes he's an entertainer.

18 Holes | Public | Par: 71 | 7104 yards
TPC Las Vegas
TPC Las Vegas has evolved into a must-play for any Las Vegas golf trip.
TPC Las VegasTPC Las Vegas golf course -  No. 18

You know the type, I'm sure. He's the guy who says he wants your round to be an experience and all but breaks into a Vaudevillian act to ensure that occurs.

As soon as I hear the spiel begin, I'm rolling my eyes and figuring on how to get past this clown, because I just want to play and not listen to a guy who thinks he's the next Dennis Miller.

They don't do that at TPC Las Vegas. The starters - and all of the staff - are plenty nice, but you're not overwhelmed with this phoniness about this wonderful experience they need to prepare you for.

They have a good product, and they know it. The TPC Las Vegas staff understands that the best thing to do is to let you get out there and see it for yourself.

TPC Las Vegas - which, until recently, was named TPC Canyons - is a marvelous test of golf that has improved dramatically with time. When it opened in 1996, it had a reputation, even among PGA Tour and Champions Tour players, as a monster.

That's no longer true. While it's hardly a pitch-and-putt track, it's also not a desert version of Bethpage Black, either.

In large part, its fiendish early reputation was due to its immature greens, which were about as soft as the concrete in the parking lot. It was frequently difficult to get a ball to stop on the putting surface and, as a result, scores skyrocketed.

It's hardly surprising to find less-than-receptive greens in the desert, where many of the courses are built on a slab of caliche.

But TPC Las Vegas has matured nicely and good shots are clearly rewarded. And as the greens have become more receptive, TPC Las Vegas has evolved into a must-play for any Las Vegas golf trip.

"With any new golf course, the greens are typically going to be firmer," said Dan Hammell, TPC Las Vegas' general manager. "Through aerification and the aging process, they've become more receptive."

In its early days, some holes were all but impossible to play correctly. The par-4 14th, which is a marvelously designed 365-yarder, was particularly nasty when the wind was blowing.

The tee shot over a large ravine was challenging enough - and it's challenging even when it is perfectly still - but the entrance to the green is guarded by a portion of the ravine.

In order to have a shot at a birdie or par, the only option was to hit the ball high and land it on the putting surface. But when it was windy and the greens dried out, the ball would go bounding over, penalizing even well-struck and placed shots.

That's no longer the case. The short- or mid-iron approach shots now hold perfectly well. It's the golfer's acumen with his irons and not the golf course that dictates a score on this hole.

The epitome of a good golf course is one in which a player can shoot his handicap when playing his average game. And by that standard, the TPC Las Vegas excels.

If you're an 80s shooter, you can easily shoot in the 80s if you strike the ball the way you normally do and if you make an occasional putt. The greens are as good as can be found in Las Vegas and roll particularly true.

And you have the opportunity to score better than your handicap if you have a better-than-average day striking the ball.

Bobby Weed challenges all players at TPC Las Vegas

TPC Las Vegas is that type of golf course. It's critical to pick the proper set of tees, because designer Bobby Weed strategically placed them to suit a player's skill levels. The course gets more benign as you move forward on the tee boxes, not only because of the distance but also because of the angle he created.

The more adept players are going to have more obstacles to carry over and more decisions to make about where to place the ball.

Hammell said TPC Las Vegas officials are going to add additional tee boxes on each hole to make certain that players of all levels have enough choice.

And if you play it from different sets of tees, you'll find a very different golf course.

One of the great things about this course, though, is that it requires you to hit about every club in the bag. For those who like to bang the driver, the fairways are a generous width, as much as 50 yards wide on some holes, and there are plenty of opportunities to do a John Daly impersonation.

But to play your best on this course, you're going to have to be able to think hit your irons as well as your driver. And there are numerous challenging chip shots around the greens.

This is a course that will test all aspects of your game. It's first rate in terms of service, conditioning and playability. And, because there have been numerous PGA Tour and Champions Tour events conducted on it, you can try some of the same shots that the biggest names on the professional circuit have faced.

TPC Las Vegas has matured as well as it possibly could have and it's now clearly on the A-list of the best Las Vegas' golf courses.

Fast Fact

WHAT I LIKED: Diversity of shots required, conditioning, courteous staff, terrific practice facilities.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Par-3 holes have a sameness to them.

Kevin Iole, Contributor

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