Mesquite's Wolf Creek equals pure jaw-dropping, soaring golf fun
MESQUITE, Nev. - By the time you reach the third tee, you're hooked, ready and eager to hand your golf clubs and the day over to the showmanship. How many golf courses get you to suspend disbelief, to smile like a kid again?
Wolf Creek Golf Club in the Las Vegas shadow town of Mesquite has you by the third hole. (Eat your heart out, Jerry Maguire!)
The second hole is impressive, requiring a shot from nine stories high over a rocky canyon to reach fairway green. It's almost jaw dropping really. But it could just be one spectacular hole. A lot of courses have one spectacular hole.
Then, you're on the third tee. It's another high, dramatic set of tee boxes. Standing there, it feels like you're on a plateau scraping the sky. You've never felt so close to being able to reach out and touch the clouds. And that's just from the white tees, the third most difficult tee boxes that most golfers play the course from.
The back, back tees are so high up that the path to it looks like a stairway to heaven. This is when you know it's just not one impressive hole. Two in a row and the show's on. The Wolf Creek round is off and running (or more accurately skying) and it's time to give in to one of the more unique courses you'll ever play.
"They just don't make them like this," Director of Golf Steve Sargent said.
When this is said in the golf shop pre-round, it sounds like typical head pro bravado. Out on the course it rings out as serious understatement.
You're shooting down from up high, watching your ball fly. You're standing on the top of tiny plateaus, staring over the edge at steep drops. You're glancing across at other golfers who look like mere dots in the distance on their own elevated plateau tees.
You've never seen anything like it is a phrase that's thrown around much too often and recklessly with golf courses. Wolf Creek is a real you've never seen anything like it.
Another course might have one can-you-believe-that drop from an elevated tee. An elite few can boast of two or three. Wolf Creek has 16 of them. That's right, 16 of its 18 holes feature elevated tees. And these don't include any dinky little bumps, stuck there just so the course can say it has an elevated tee. They all require getting the golf cart to strain up a steep hill.
"It's beautiful, that's the first thing that comes to mind," Wyoming golfer Dan Shadrick said. "You could stand there snapping pictures all day from the tee boxes and completely forget about the shot you have to hit.
"Those views can really psych you out."
No one said it was easy to hit golf balls with your mouth wide open.
Wolf Creek is so visually different from other courses that it knocks many golfers off their game. This is why the golf shop sells cameras and touts postcards. It's also why you should forget about going for that career round at Wolf Creek.
"A lot of golfers just throw their score out the window after a few holes and just enjoy the course," Sargent said. "It's about a day's experience, not a good score."
A good score is relative at this true desert canyon course. Wolf Creek is rated as the third hardest golf course in America by the USGA, carrying a beyond wicked 154 slope rating from the back tees. You should not play these tees unless you can keep up with a near pro. You should take the long wood staircase walk up to several of them, just to gawk at the towering views and laugh at the forced carries required.
"From the backs, a lot of those forced carries are ridiculous," Sargent said.
Try 200 yards plus just to avoid losing your ball in a mountainside ridiculous.
"Some of those holes, you're just looking at those carries and are like, 'Are you serious?'" said Sargent, who holds the course record with a 65.
Even from the third set of tees, the whites that most recreational golfers will find themselves on, the slope rating's a daunting 134. You can be playing the whites at Wolf Creek and have a much tougher course to navigate than you would from the tips at most tracks.
Don't let the numbers on the scorecard lull you into a false sense of security. This is a monster.
"A lot of golfers just look at the yardage (Wolf Creek's a very modern day reasonable 6,923 yards even from those back tees) and don't relate it to the difficulty of the course," said Wolf Creek sales manager John Paul.
In Wolf Creek's case, difficulty does not mean spirit sapping however. This isn't a course just designed to pummel average golfers into humiliating submission. Sure you'll lose a few balls to the mountains. But you'll probably have more fun waving goodbye to those precious Pro V1s than you've ever had doing it at any other golf course.
It's sort of cool to be gingerly guiding your golf cart down a windy, roller coaster steep cart path and notice your ball perched up high on a canyon side, reachable only to snakes and scorpions.
Besides, Wolf Creek makes up for it by giving even the most heckled hacker a chance to pull off some truly memorable, go-for-the-gusto, retell-it-forever golf shots. On No. 13, you can try and clear a corner of mountainside that butts into the fairway and guards a tucked, tucked away green.
Who's ever going to forget shooting over a mountain?
Or driving a raised green with a steep drop right in front of the ridge? That's what No. 7 (265 yards from the whites) gives you a real shot at.
And so it goes at Wolf Creek. Some of the most dramatic, showy setting holes provide a decent go at birdie or at least a memorable par. No. 8, a par 3 where the green's surrounded by a small creek on three sides and rock wall right behind that, is not a hard target shooting down from the tees. As long as you don't get visually spooked.
Even No. 18 - a par 4 with not one, but two foaming waterfalls and a fairway littered with little hills - is a very reachable in driver/wedge 275 yards from the whites.
"The views are unbelievable," said Dave Shadrick, Dan's father and golf partner this day. "But it's actually a very playable course."
You're liable to recognize this by the third tee as well. Wolf Creek is a course where it's okay to have fun.
Wolf Creek is the kind of course you travel for, make a special side trip to play. It's that uniquely memorable. And plain cool. There is just something about teeing off from a sky high plateau and watching your ball soar through the air down to the fairway. Everyone loves to see their ball fly.
You'll likely never see it fly quite like it does at Wolf Creek. It's enough to make the most jaded golfer giggle. At least inside.
This is pure golf theater and everyone plays their part. The starter tells you about the 23 varieties of poisonous scorpions and the three varieties of poisonous snakes that can be found on Wolf Creek's grounds. And sometimes snuggling up to your lost shots.
Even the hourly-wage workers on staff seem to take a real pride in this unique course. A member of the grounds crew chased after me for three holes on his tractor to return the cell phone I'd dropped. And just try and carry your own bag to and from the car. It's not happening. The bag attendants have pulled up to your car before you can even step out. Bypass the bag drop and they bring the bag drop to you. Then, there's a marshal who's so omnipresent, you could be excused for thinking he's stalking you. He doesn't utter a word when you duff three straight shots, however.
You're still going to end up talking about the views.
Mesquite is a rapidly growing town, but it's still Mesquite. There aren't a lot of fine dining options, even fewer showy Vegas type restaurants. One of the best choices can actually be found right in Wolf Creek's clubhouse.
Terrace Restaurant (702-345-6701) offers a full menu with wraparound balcony seating that provides some great views of all those great views out on the course. It also puts on its own show. Every Friday and Saturday night, the waiters are tuxedo clad, adding a sense of dining theater to an area that's still most often associated with relaxed Western ways.
Make sure to try the prime rib. That's no sign-off comedian line here. Terrace's prime rib is advertised as the best prime rib in all of Nevada.
Stay & Play
There are number of casino hotels in town to chose from, many decked out in the requisite neon. Eureka Casino Hotel is a convenient option for Wolf Creek. The rooms are not full of Vegas glitz or glamour, but they are clean and pretty comfortable. All it takes to reach the casino is a quick walk across parking lot (the hotel and casino are in separate buildings).
There is no Internet access in the rooms, but there are a few computers in a lounge off the lobby that guests can use to surf the web for free.
Wolf Creek goes without any architect being credited for it in all its course literature because of an ongoing lawsuit over who designed it.
January 10, 2006