Primm Valley Golf Club's Lakes Course a striking Fazio challenge

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

PRIMM, Nev. -- Out here by the California-Nevada border, the word desert takes on real meaning. Stay on The Strip your entire Las Vegas -- as many tourists do -- and the fact you are in the desert can pass by virtually unnoticed. Not here though.

18 Holes | Resort | Par: 71 | 6945 yards
Primm Valley Golf Club - Lakes course - hole 2
The romance with Primm Valley Golf Club's Lakes Course starts out well enough with a 530-yard, par-5 second hole.
Primm Valley Golf Club - Lakes course - hole 2Primm Valley Golf Club - Lakes course - hole 9

Once you leave the fake Parisian, Venetian, Roman and Egyptian worlds behind, you really leave them behind. By time you are 20 minutes from Mandalay Bay, you're staring at true, barren desert through the car windows. By the time you are 50 minutes away, speeding toward Primm Valley Golf Club, sharing the two-lane highway with a fleet of semi trucks, the building interruptions are few and far between and city dwellers are suddenly checking the instrument panels on their rental cars.

Now, this is desert.

Which makes that first turn from the clubhouse onto the Lakes Courses at Primm Valley Golf Club even more striking. One 90 degree turn and suddenly everything is green, woodsy and water gurgling. There is even a weird noise in the air. It might take you a minute, to realize it's the chirp of what looks like a robin.

Yes, Tom Fazio's even brought the birds to his on-the-border Lakes Course.

It is Vegas showmanship at its finest, carried out where you'd least expect. The pairing of high-end golf designer Tom Fazio and a Primm Valley casino complex that's more Tupelo, Miss., than Vegas in feel might seem like a strange one, but there is little question Fazio is capable of wowing any client base.

"You don't even feel like you're in the desert with all these pine trees," golfer Jeffery Allen said. "It's a fantasy land."

The illusion is an impressive one, but a golf course cannot thrive on illusion alone. This is where Fazio's Lakes comes up a little lacking. It is a fine enough course, good by many standards. It is just not one of Fazio's better efforts. Compared with even its sister Desert Course, which forces a golfer to think and then think again, the Lakes never really finds its substance.

"The Lakes Courses is probably the more popular course," assistant pro Charles Fralix said.

The romance with the Lakes Course starts out well enough with a 530-yard, par-5 second hole that curves around the largest man-made lake on the course. The tee and the green actually stare each straight on, separated by that huge body of tranquil blue water. Unless you turn into a duck, the best way to get to the hole is to skirt along the lake's edge. Which of course creates a chorus of inevitable splashdowns. It seems like no one wants to play it safe by staying wide right and going for a relatively safe bogey try.

Fazio actually gives would-be adventurers a break by setting up long ball-snaring bunkers along the lake's bank. Still, it is funny to hear golfers excitedly call out, "I'm in the bunker!" in a tone usually reserved for winning lottery tickets.

No. 5, a 366-yard par 4, provides another eye-catching scene. To the left of an elevated tee, there are a patch of desert brush and a lake that actually looks like it might belong in the desert. To the right there's a perfect green fairway, complete with large Midwest-worthy fluffy trees. Throw in the almost bluish mountains looming in the background, framing the whole scene, and it's easy to feel like you're swinging in a postcard.

The contrast between the natural desert and Fazio's perfect creation is never more apparent. Which you realize after playing the hole is probably the entire point. It seems like Fazio put this hole in just to wow golfers with the scope of what he has done.

And here all you're trying to do is enjoy a round of golf.

There is no debating the Fazio team's feat. In building the Lakes Course out of the bleak sand, they used enough sod to fill 72 football fields end to end to end, put in about 6,000 trees and laid down more than 200 miles of irrigation pipe underneath those unnaturally lush fairways. The golfer just ends up wishing Fazio wasn't so determined to remind everyone of that, again and again. The Lakes Course ends up being much more enjoyable to look at than to play, and you cannot help but leave feeling that's because that is where the emphasis was placed.

There are much worse ways to while away an afternoon than with a beauty of a course. A golfer who goes into a round at the Lakes Course with the right lighthearted attitude is likely to leave happy if not altogether fulfilled. There are fun holes like the par-3, 234-yard No. 12 with its green up on a ledge much narrower than most of the other targets on this fairly wide-open course.

The enjoyment is enhanced by the fact that even the more crowded, people's choice of the two Fazio Primm courses is often as traffic jammed as North Dakota. Forty-five minutes might not be a long drive to most, but it is in the instant gratification world of Las Vegas.

"To be honest, it is a well-kept secret," regular Vegas golfer John Benton said. "To be out here on a beautiful Friday like this and have only six groups on the course is incredible."

"It's fantastic really," Allen said.

Primm Valley Golf Club's Lakes Course: The verdict

The Lakes Course at Primm Valley Golf Club is a little closer to the highway, a little noisier, a little less well-maintained than its Desert sister Fazio course. It is a course for those longing to rip it and grip it in the desert. The fairways are wide and forgiving for the most part. You rarely have to think twice about a shot here and even if you happen to be caught in between clubs you are unlikely to find serious trouble.

Still, if you are making the trip to Primm, it's worth it to play both courses. The greens fees are reasonable for Vegas -- very reasonable if you opt to stay in one of Primm's three casinos -- and there is something to being able to say you conquered a Fazio.

This might be one of the last places you'd expect to find such a relaxing, soothing round, but it's here.

Fazio's Lakes. Leave your swing stresses behind.

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.

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