Wolf Creek Golf Club
"Nevada's Best New Course (2000-01): Wolf Creek Golf Club"
We live in a hyperbolic age, when words like "fantastic", "awesome", and (perhaps especially) "unique" have completely lost their meaning. Every year, reviews of the latest and greatest batch of golf facilities contain enough overwrought superlatives to choke a thesaurus.
In truth, there are precious few courses that can generate a true sense of awe for one hole, or for several holes at a stretch, much less an entire nine holes. Exceedingly rare is the layout which can sustain the feeling for an entire round. Wolf Creek Golf Club, located in the southern Nevada border town of Mesquite, is just such a course.
In fact, all one must do is soak in the breathtaking view from the first tee at Wolf Creek to develop the sense that all superlatives indisputably apply.
The city of Mesquite, Nevada, a dusty burg of nascent housing developments and small, neon-blighted gaming establishments, has retained the Wild West flair that corporate Las Vegas (which looms less than a hundred miles to the southwest) lost some years back. For years, Mesquite languished in the considerable shadow of its neighbor, until the city elders made the decision to utilize some of the area's unique desert topography to fashion golf courses that might ensure a continual flow of tourist dollars.
No less a luminary than Arnold Palmer was called upon in the 1990's to fashion two courses, the
Palms and the Oasis
"I didn't need to have the plans on paper. I'd lay awake at night and design the course in my head," said Rider. Like a symphony at first heard only in the composer's cranium, it was in the rendering that the genius of those sleepless musings were finally realized.
"I wanted to see an experience that would truly be natural," said Rider. "When you get off that first tee and start down the fairway, it's just you and nature."
Finding a few of Wolf Creek's ninety-eight bunkers also proves a "natural" experience, but therein lies a pleasant surprise. The traps are filled with crushed granite, giving even poor bunker players a chance to spin the ball. The gritty stuff was brought in by helicopter, which airlifted basket loads to individually fill each bunker. As an ancillary bonus, while other area courses often have their bunker sand stripped away in the occasional howling gale, the granite in Wolf Creek's bunkers stays firmly in place.
The same helicopter was employed to deliver ninety granite steps (each weighing 500 lbs.), that formed the path to the number two tee box, perched an incredible eleven stories above the fairway. Tee shots must carry a saw-toothed ridge and favor the right side on this 445-yd par four, as the hole sweeps left around a sandstone formation which, even from that height, hides the green from view.
Holes three through seven continue the theme of massive elevation changes, sizable forced carries, and natural defenses reminiscent of linksland; in fact, one cannot help but detect a wee Scottish tone wafting through the desert air. No doubt the "Bedouin with bagpipes" I imagined wandering the fairways at Wolf Creek was a mirage; you'll have to see for yourself.
First timers to Wolf Creek remain blissfully unaware that the first seven holes, as superb as they are, are merely a prelude. The stunning solo masterpiece, the aria, if you will, awaits your arrival at the eighth tee.
One of the most indelible impressions provided by the world's greatest courses is that of the picturesque par three, the hole you'd rather render onto canvas than actually play, lest you spoil the image. The seventh hole at Pebble Beach, the twelfth at Augusta National, and the sixteenth at Cypress Point, are all such holes. Add to that immortal list the eighth at Wolf Creek.
From the tips, the eighth plays 248 yards. Although the descent to the green is over a hundred feet in total, this tee shot has a definite "all or nothing" element. Thankfully, the regular ("Masters") tee reduces the requirement to short iron distance, yet the green remains an elusive target. Chalk it up to distraction. A sandstone pocket canyon serves as a backdrop to the green, which is encircled by a idyllically flowing brook. The eighth is one of those holes that, if you missed the mark the first time, you are gripped by an overpowering urge to return to the tee box, if merely to burn the imagery into your brain for eternity.
Twelve, another postcard come to life, is a 554-yd beauty with a massive lake guarding the left side, a frequent home to wildlife and the errant golf ball; I dubbed the par four fourteenth the "Trouser" hole, because from the elevated tee located on the other side of a desert arroyo, the split fairway resembles a man donning a pair of pants.
As was the case on the outward nine, however, the first seven holes of the inward nine serve as overture to the virtuosity of the seventeenth. From a precipice perched over two hundred feet above the fairway, this 560-yd par five is a gem that is emblematic of the term "risk-reward". A scorched tee ball that carries 300 yards or more --- and avoids a bisecting creek and a small pond to the left as well--- might tempt a long hitter to challenge the green. I said "might", because that putting surface is an island green protected by a jealous lake, which gleams malevolently along the starboard side of the hole. Those who lack the gambling spirit (and talent) of a Mickelson will still do well to claim a par here.
Both nines at Wolf Creek conclude with unusual codas that might disappoint purists who demand that great courses finish with bombastic crescendos. While the grand climaxes which occur on the inward and outward halves come a hole early, these closing stanzas should not be taken lightly. Nine and eighteen are shortish par fours that seem to offer easy paths to glory until you actually play them.
Don't look for professional tournaments to be held at Wolf Creek anytime soon. Simply put, the course is too difficult to suit the cushy tastes of the pros. From the tips (understatedly dubbed the "Challenger" tees), Wolf Creek sports a ghastly 154 USGA rating (making it the third toughest course in the country). The 7,018 yards of total length (at altitude) may seem only moderately impressive until you factor in such data as the 305 yard carry required to reach the sixteenth fairway. Ouch.
In fact, PGA tour veteran Jay Don Blake, who holds the course record of 64, played half of that round from the tips, and half from the much shorter "Champions" tees. For the rest of us, a total of five sets of tee boxes are provided, making the course playable for everyone. Be forewarned: never was the phrase "play a set of tees suitable for your ability" more apt than at Wolf Creek.
With the recent additions of a 17,000 ft. clubhouse, a gourmet restaurant, and 100 golf villas, Wolf Creek is well on its way to becoming recognized as a world-class golf facility, with all the trimmings.
As the melodic sounds which issue from the cascading waterfall near the eighteenth green fade away, one fact remains loud and clear. Those who make the trek to Mesquite to make some sweet music of their own at this desert jewel should come prepared to stay an extra day. For as surely as the baileyi (Mexican wolves) sing into the deep desert night, you'll always want to play "just a little bit longer" at Wolf Creek.
8.25 of 10 (must play)
Course Location/Rates/Travel Information
LOCATION: Wolf Creek Golf Clubis located in Mesquite, NV. From Las Vegas, take I-15E for approximately 85 miles, turning off at exit #122. Turn left, then right onto Paradise Parkway. The course entrance is on your left.
RATES: Wolf Creek at Paradise Canyon's currently posted rates are good seven days a week, but are subject to change.
CLOSEST AIRPORT: LAS VEGAS (McCARRAN) INT'L (LAS) 89.6 mi.
EUREKA HOTEL 275 Mesa Blvd. Mesquite, NV
The Eureka Hotel offers spacious, comfortable rooms at super-low rates, and is conveniently located only a mile from the course. The accommodations are separate from the adjacent casino, keeping the Eureka "family friendly". Golf packages for Wolf Creek are offered; log on to the hotel's website for details.
January 1, 2002