Cascata - complete with waterfall and forecaddies - lets you golf like a high roller
BOULDER CITY, Nev. - The caddies at Cascata are out there on the range with their respective players, meting out encouragement, when a first-timer inevitably pops the question.
"Where's the golf course?"
A fair question, considering that Cascata's expansive range is indeed all you see. You look in either direction, and there is no evidence of a golf course, except for the 418-foot waterfall that you know starts on the mountain behind the range and disappears as it meanders through the course and eventually splitting the magnificent, 37,000-square-foot, Tuscan-style clubhouse behind you.
You might be thinking on the range that this is one of those courses where the practice area and the course are a half-mile apart, but this isn't the case. The par-72 course, which can play 7,137 yards from the pro tees, is right next to you. It's just that it's hidden from the range and vice-versa. And from the first hole - a short, uphill par 4 with the cascading water on the left - you can't see the second hole either or the third or the 18th. In fact, throughout the course, you don't really see any of the other holes, which also means you are unlikely to see other golfers as well.
What you will see is what many consider to be architect Rees Jones' finest golf course, a $60 million playground originally designed for the high rollers who come into town.
Cascata, which means "waterfall" in Italian, is unlike any other course in the world. That waterfall, fed by Lake Mead, only runs during the daytime and does indeed rush through the clubhouse. Cascata is a sanctuary of sorts for the big horn sheep that grace the back nine and those who can afford to play anywhere and want more than country club treatment. You don't have to be a high roller to play here anymore - however, many of the guests are indeed just that - now that Harrah's Entertainment acquired the club a few years ago. Just fork over $500 (discounted rates are available during the summer) and wear the proper attire. But pegging this course, which opened December 2000, on its green fee misses the essence of Cascata.
When you play here, you feel like a celebrity of sorts, and they know how to cater to the famous here. In April, Tiger Woods hosted his annual Tiger Jam. Still on crutches from his first knee surgery if 2008, he conducted a clinic with PGA Tour player, friend and former amateur rival Charley Hoffmann, a University of Nevada Las Vegas alum. The course also has been the annual site of the Michael Douglas & Friends celebrity tournament, featuring names like (Douglas' wife) Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kenny G, Haley Joel Osment, Alice Cooper and Morgan Freeman, to name a few.
This encounter of the special kind starts when you pass through the gates of the clubhouse and hand over your keys, if you're driving, to the valet. Play is so light and spaced apart that the chances are once you get inside the clubhouse and golf shop, you won't see any other group but your own (unless you are part of a group golf outing, of course). The locker room rivals the country's finest clubs, and here you will find your own locker with your name on it - for a day at least - with your golf shoes waiting in front of it. Somehow, in the time it takes you to check in and find your locker, the staff has already transformed your shoes from parking-lot dingy to dapper, then laid them out in front of your locker.
It's pampering to the nth degree. After you dress for golf, you're then hooked up with your forecaddie, who takes you and your group below the clubhouse where your clubs are awaiting on a golf cart in air-conditioned comfort. The caddie then drives you out of the building through two magnificent doors that magically open and reveal the splendor, starting with the large practice area and range.
As you warm up, your caddie gets to know you while cleaning each club, suggesting that you practice a few sand shots, pitches or chips before rolling a few on the practice green prior to the round. This is almost as fun as playing golf, but it's just a preview.
On the course, every hole is pretty much independent of the other, although they flow together, obviously crafted by the same guy throughout (Jones was aided by co-designer Keith Evans). You realize from the get-go that creating this course was no easy task. Immaculate fairways, greens and water cut through rock on each hole, making for spectacular contrast. The key is to keep it in play, and despite the intimidating look, fairways are generally generous.
The value of a forecaddie is evident from the start. That's when you learn that the first green has a false front, so take enough club to carry it well into the green. Later, you learn when and when not to hit driver as the par 4s vary greatly in length and landing areas. Same with the par 3s, with two over 200 yards and two short ones. On the 157-yard seventh, for example, builders blasted away a hill to create a canyon for the green which is guarded by large bunkers front and back as well as a stream to the left and in front. It's somewhat daunting and certainly visually striking. The other short par 3 - the 150-yard 12th - might be equally as interesting, with a pond to the left of the green.
Like the par 3s, Cascata's par 4s also provide plenty of variety. The 11th is only 346 yards and may be drivable except for the pond that catches tee shots in front of the green on the left. Then there's the 17th, a 489-yard monster from the tips that doglegs left to right. A long draw shortens the hole considerably, but the inherent risk of hitting it in the desert rocks looms.
And the par-5 holes are no exception to the diversity rule. The fifth, at 523 yards, and the 16th, which is only 508 yards, are good birdie opportunities with reasonable risk in attempting to reach the green in two. Then there's the 18th, a great risk-reward finishing hole. At 559 yards, it wouldn't seem reachable, but strong players can challenge the dogleg left by cranking their tee shot over the corner of a mountain. Hit it on the right line far enough, and you can have reasonable club into the green, which is guarded by water on the right. Push, and you could find the stream that feeds into that pond. Most people, however, will play it as a three-shot hole. Whatever strategy players use, though, most share one common thought - they wish there were a few more holes.
June 30, 2008